Billy Gibbons

REVIEW: ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987)

ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987 Warner)

What a strange time the dawn of the compact disc was.  Even at the end of the 1980s, vast catalogues of music had yet to be released on CD.  It was a hit and miss affair, with some early discs sounding wonderful and others sounding like a thin, tinny facsimile of the original vinyl.  The longer running time of CD was a bonus that many bands took advantage of, while other heritage groups were considering the ways they could re-release their music on this new format.

Before Jimmy Page took his first crack at remastering the Led Zeppelin catalogue for CD, ZZ Top took a different route.

Now, granted, ZZ Top’s music spans a longer time period than that of many of their rivals.  They’re also notable for starting the 1970s as a dirty raw blues and ending the 80s as clean space-age rock.  While this took them from one success to an even more massive one, it unfortunately meant that the ZZ Top camp felt it necessary to “update” their music for the CD age.  Make the catalogue sound more on an even keel with Eliminator and Afterburner.

And so the six ZZ Top albums that were so-far unreleased on CD were remixed:  First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango!, Tejas, and El Loco.  Only Degüello was spared, having been released on CD earlier.

Apparently, updating the ZZ Top catalogue for CD was of “overriding concern” for all parties involved.  ZZ Top were aware that there were complaints about early CD transfers for classic albums.  The goal was “return to the original analog tapes and consider what steps were needed to render the music appropriate to  contemporary digital playback equipment without compromising integrity.”

The answer was none.  No steps were necessary.  The remixes were not what the old fans wanted to hear on their brand new CD players.  Rhythm tracks were updated with sequencers, drums treated digitally, and the whole thing came out sterile and flat.  Adding echo didn’t add depth.  Doing an A/B test with a remix vs. an original track makes you wonder why you even own the ZZ Top Six Pack.*  It just…doesn’t sound right.  Like a disorienting time displacement.

As of 2013, you can get all the original ZZ Top albums on remastered CD as they should have always sounded.

While it is nice to have six ZZ Top albums on just three CDs, and there is no denying the booklet is hot, you do not need the ZZ Top Six Pack anymore.  The charm of the originals is that they are a document of those hot Memphis studios where ZZ Top laid down the original tracks fast and dirty.  The remixes sound like a digital mixing board trying to tame a wild animal.  Wrong, and unnecessary.  “Francine” is actually awful.

The booklet is truly valuable (nonsense justifying the remix aside) and worth a point on its own.  The ZZ Top songs in and of themselves are always incredible, so they too are worth a point.

2/5 stars

* It was a gift from Kevin.  He also rates it 2/5 stars.  I asked him for a quote for this review.  All he had to say about the ZZ Top Six Pack was:  “I’m glad Mike took this crap off my hands.”  

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 limited edition BBQ shack)

ZZ TOP –  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 Warner limited edition BBQ shack version)

Though it seems an outlandish thought today, there was once a time when if you desired to hear original ZZ Top music, you couldn’t do that on CD.  You had to purchase original ZZ Top LPs.  In 1987, most of the original ZZ Top albums were issued on CD as part of the ZZ Top Six Pack, which featured remixed percussion to make them sound more like Eliminator and Afterburner.  Needless to say this was a very unpopular idea, though it didn’t stop the Six Pack from selling.  The original ZZ Top albums were finally given a CD reissue in 2013.  Until then, your best bet on compact disc was to buy the 4 CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ anthology.

Because Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features original mixes and a helping of rarities, it still makes for an enjoyable listen and valuable collectible today.  The limited edition version came housed in a box like a little BBQ shack, but both have the same four discs of bluesy, greasy ZZ rock.  A well-assembled anthology can make for a great listen even well after its expiry date, and this is one such set.

Disc 1 of Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features three tracks from Billy Gibbons’ first band the Moving Sidewalks.  The guitar work is brilliant even in Billy’s youth.  These tracks are notably more psychedelic than ZZ Top.  The year was 1969, the same year as the first ZZ Top single “Miller’s Farm” / “Salt Lick”.  This early version of ZZ Top (credited as “embryonic ZZ Top”) was a transition from Moving Sidewalks and didn’t feature Frank Beard nor Dusty Hill.  Organ on a ZZ Top song is an unusual sound, and it’s quite prominent on “Miller’s Farm”.  It’s a pretty standard blues with the emphasis on the keys and with one foot solidly in 60s rock.  “Salt Lick” has a bit more of the mid-tempo ZZ groove, but the with the organ still part of the whole.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ remains the easiest way to obtain this rare single.

ZZ Top’s First Album takes the spotlight next with three tracks including “Brown Sugar”, the first “real” ZZ Top track.  An impactful one it is, and so obviously ZZ Top.  It seems by the time the right three guys got together, the ZZ Top sound was born.  “Brown Sugar” is so essential to the ZZ Top sound that maybe the box set should have opened with it, chronology be damned!  Dusty’s pulse on bass is already present, and Frank’s sheer style adds some much needed character.  Then “Just Got Back From Baby’s” has the spare nocturnal blues that is a ZZ signature.

The next three ZZ Top albums – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! are featured much more prominently with seven tracks apiece.  This part of the set is deep with essential music.  “Francene”, obviously “Francene”, the catchiest song during this part of history, is present and accounted for.  (Even in Spanish!)  For relentless groove, ZZ Top never nailed one as hard as “Just Got Paid”, slide guitar right in the pocket.  “Chevrolet” showed how they could just lay back.  For shuffles, “Bar-B-Q” got the spice you need.  “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” covers the sad, spare blues that Billy’s guitar can evoke.  The music goes on, and on:  “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Heard It on the X”, “Blue Jean Blues”, “Tush”.  Though the songs in between are all excellent as well, it’s hard to ignore the hit power of these tracks.

Six tracks from Tejas feature on this set, still more than half the album.  The ZZ Top direction was gradually making tentative steps towards modernizing.  “It’s Only Love”, a bluesy country pop, sounds like something new.  They hadn’t left anything behind though, as told by the menacing “Arrested for Driving While Blind”.  It’s a cleaner, more studio-driven sound, as heard on “El Diablo” with its subtle overdubs and dynamics.  “Enjoy and Get it On” is a nice sentiment, with the slide all greased up and ready to go.  Two of the most interesting of the Tejas tracks are the quiet instrumental “Asleep in the Desert” and the twangy “She’s a Heartbreaker”.

At this point ZZ Top took a break to decompress after years of consecutive touring and recording.  The Best of ZZ Top came out during this break, but what was going on behind the scenes was to be far more important down the road.  ZZ Top’s image began its final evolution when Gibbons and Hill returned from vacation with matching full length beards. Their next album Degüello allowed the music to evolve as well.  Six songs from Degüello represent this period, along with a rare radio spot advertising the album.

ZZ Top’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is iconic enough that many people probably assume it’s an original.  What was original was “Cheap Sunglasses”, a staggering hangover of a track — the new ZZ Top.  Same with “Maniac Mechanic”, a track so bizarre that you could mistake it for Zappa.  Meanwhile “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” has the laid back, cruisin’ ZZ Top vibe that fans always loved.  “A Fool For Your Stockings” showed that Gibbons could still play the blues, too.

Another six tracks from El Loco account for the last hits before the MTV generation took hold.  “Leila”, a 50s inspired ballad is clearly an experiment albeit a successful one.  As is the surf rocker “Tube Snake Boogie”, a track unlike any ZZ Top ever attempted before.  Another ballad, “It’s So Hard” is not out of place, with its roots in soul music.  “Pearl Necklace” has surf vibes but is most memorable for its dirty double entendre.  “Heaven, Hell or Houston” is even weirder than “Maniac Mechanic”.  It’s quite clear that ZZ Top were stretching out, while still maintaining a foot in their bluesy, rock and roll roots.

And then came MTV, the music videos, the car, and the girls.  The music was laden with sequencers and electronic percussion, but this unlikely combination is the one that really struck oil.  Black gold, Texas tea, and platinum records.  Eight tracks from Eliminator are included here, almost the whole album minus three.  Only “Thug”, “I Need You Tonight” and “Bad Girl” are left behind.  So you get all the hits, and then some.  “I Got the Six” had to be on here, a dirty but slick little favourite from the day.  “Dirty Dog” is a fun also-ran too, but didn’t need to be on a box set.

When ZZ Top found their successful formula, they really ran with it, right into the next album Afterburner.  As we know a sequel rarely tops an original, but the album still features eight songs, and this is where Chrome, Smoke & BBQ begins to stumble.  By featuring so many songs from this period, the box set is really unfairly weighted.  Surely another few tracks could have been included from ZZ Top’s First Album instead of so many from Afterburner and Recycler.  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Woke Up With Wood” could have been dropped, but let’s keep “Sleeping Bag”, “Stages”, “Rough Boy”, Delirious, “Velcro Fly”,  and “Planet of Women”.  Around Afterburner, ZZ Top had taken their music to its most commercial extreme.  They decided to reduce, though not remove, technology on the third album of the MTV trilogy Recycler.  Notable from this period:  “Concrete and Steel”, “My Head’s In Mississippi”, “Give It Up”, “2000 Blues” and “Doubleback”.

ZZ Top switched from Warner to RCA for their next studio album 1994’s Antenna, and nothing from that era onwards is included.  There is still some more music on this box set to enjoy.  In 1990, ZZ Top recorded a cover of “Reverberation (Doubt)” by Roky Erickson for the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.  Gratefully, this ZZ Top rarity is included here.  You can note the Recycler-era sequencers, but they compliment the psychedelic track nicely.  This is followed by the two “new” songs that ZZ Top recorded for 1992’s Greatest Hits.  “The corniest Elvis song ever” is “Viva Las Vegas”, sung by Dusty Hill, and overproduced to the gills.  Huge hit of course.  “Gun Love” is also included.

Disc 4 ends with six “medium rare” tracks.  Some are actually super rare.  These include a spanish version of “Francene” with Dusty Hill singing.  It sounds like thie audio could be taken from an actual vinyl single.  A live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” comes from a 1980 promo-only single, and it smokes.  Then there are some dance mixes from 12″ singles, easily the most skippable part of this box set.  None of these will be played regularly by you, the listener.  Especially not “Viva Las Vegas”.

The booklet included with Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is impressive on its own.  It’s packed with music and text, including a track by track commentary by the band.  “Seems like all our songs are about dicks and pussies,” says Frank Beard.

Limited edition box sets are fun to get while they last.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boasts its box shaped like a steel shack, including corrugated roof.  (It’s actually great because it doesn’t collect dust!)  Include the box, all four CDs are safely housed in individual jewel cases.  If you dig inside a little more you’ll find cut-out characters to add to your BBQ shack display.  You could scan and print these cut-outs yourself.  Enjoy a picnic table, ribs, sausages, cacti, and of course the guys from ZZ Top themselves (on a bike, or disembarked).  Also hidden in the box is an animated flip-book.  See the video below for a quick demonstration.

As with many box sets, tracklists could use a little tweaking and everybody will have their own ideas for how to fix that.  Perhaps instead of dumping all those remixes at the end, they could have been included chronologically so the set doesn’t end on such a…tepid concept as the extended dance remix.  The set could certainly use some balancing away from Afterburner and Recycler with more focus on the earlier stuff.  The exclusive rarities are adequate and appropriate for a set of this stature.  Not too few, not too many.  The ZZ Top completist will want this set for them and will still enjoy giving it a complete spin from time to time.

The regular edition will do nicely, but if you can find a complete limited version for a good price, don’t hesitate to snag it.

4/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: ZZ Top – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

ZZ TOP – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

Directed by Sam Dunn

Banger Films have never released a dud, have they?  Their latest documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is another well made, entertaining film to add to your collection.

And it’s about time, isn’t it?  50 years?  And not just that, but the same three guys for 50 years solid!  The only thing that changed were the grooming habits.  Frank Beard tried to grow one but just couldn’t pull it off.  I think it’s better that way.  Two guys with beards plus a moustache guy in the back on the drums.  Although it was completely accidentally, it’s so genius it seems planned.  The beard tale, and many more like it, make up the backbone of this film.

As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of craziness and drama in the official ZZ Top story.  We never learn much about their personal lives outside the band.  Beard is quite “frank” about his past drug situations, but Aerosmith they were not.  This movie is actually mostly about the music.  Imagine that!  About the influences — both blues and rock.  About opening for the big boys like the Stones.  About Texas.

Texas plays a huge role in this film, and in ZZ Top.  That unique blend of forces that spawned ZZ Top came together in Houston.  But then they got too big to be just a Houston band.  Things were about to happen.  Their sound is half nurture, and half nature.  Yes, Texas (the nurturer) had its influence on the three, but so did their sheer talent and chemistry (the nature).  Hill and Beard talk of playing together for the first time, and it was obviously just meant to be.  As much as ZZ Top rocked, their down-home country image certainly confused people in the early days.

What really comes across is the music.  Via the old recordings, and brand new footage of the boys playing in the studio, you can hear just how little they have lost over 50 years.  What a tight, yet thick sound.  Overdubs were a part of the ZZ Top studio sound early on (though not without some doing).  Of course, we know that ZZ Top made a massive sonic change in the 80s with Eliminator.  This is briefly discussed, as is the MTV revolution and just how ZZ Top came to dominate in that era.  Unfortunately that is where the film ends.  Potentially you could have added another hour just talking about the seven albums that followed Eliminator, some of which were pretty big.  Or another hour getting to know the three guys a little better. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas goes no deeper than just the bare surface when it comes to the guys and their interpersonal relationships.  Surely in 50 years there must have been some drama.  You won’t find much of it in this film.  Clearly, that’s the way ZZ Top want it.  Maintain the mystique.  Never reveal too much.  Hone the mythology.

As with any music documentary, other stars must be interviewed in order to gush and add context and detailed observations.  These include Josh Homme (what isn’t he in?), Steve Miller, Billy Bob Thornton (?) and Dan Auerbach.  But you’ll also hear from Tim Newman (director of those classic videos and brother of Randy Newman), and Robin Hood Brians, a studio owner who helped shape their early sound.

Any Banger film is going to be a quality product going in.  It’s not so much “will it be good?”  It’s more “what nits will I pick?”  Because any serious fan will have some with any rock film.  I have very few to pick with this film.  Just that I wish it was an hour longer.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year – Various Artists (2008)

WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS AND A HEADBANGING NEW YEAR (2008 Armoury)

Yep, It’s another Bob Kulick album with various guests.  You know what you’re going to get.  Let’s not dilly-dally; let’s crack open the cranberry sauce and see what a Metal Xmas sounds like.

Generic!  A truly ordinary title track features the amazing Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals, but it’s a purely cookie-cutter arrangement with all the cheesy adornments you expect.  Ray Luzier fans will enjoy the busy drums, but this does not bode well for the album.

Fortunately it’s Lemmy to the rescue, with “Run Rudolph Run”, an utterly classic performance with Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.  All spit n’ vinegar with no apologies and nary a mistletoe in sight.  I remember playing this for my sister Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the car one Christmas.

When Lemmy opened his yap, she proclaimed “This is bullshit!  How come they get to make albums and not me?”

Lemmy Kilmister, pissing people off since day one, has done it again.  You can buy the CD for “Run Rudolph Run” even if the rest is utter shit.

A silly “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Alice Cooper echoes “The Black Widow”, but novelty value aside, is not very good.  A joke song can only take you so far, and Alice is usually far more clever.  (At least John 5’s soloing is quite delicious.)  And even though Dio is next, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” comes across as a joke, too.  Which is a shame because the lineup is a Dio/Sabbath hybrid:  Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright.  Dio’s joyless, dead serious interpretation is amusing only because of its unintentional dry humour.

Funny enough, Geoff Tate’s “Silver Bells” has the right attitude.  Even though Geoff is perpetually flat, his spirited version (with Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier) kicks up some snow.  That makes me happy, but it pains me to say that Dug Pinnick’s “Little Drummer Boy” (with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips) doesn’t jingle.  Ripper Owens, Steve More & pals team up next on “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, so bad that it borders on parody.

The most bizarre track is Chuck Billy’s “Silent Night”, with thrash buddies like Scott Ian.  Chuck performs it in his death metal growl, and it’s pure comedy.  Oni Logan can’t follow that with “Deck the Halls”, though it’s pretty inoffensive.  Stephen Pearcy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” adapts the riff from “Tie Your Mother Down” and succeeds in creating a listenable track.  “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree” is ably performed by Joe Lynn Turner, sounding a lot like a Christmas party jam.

The final artist is Tommy Shaw with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.  It’s an authentic version and while not a replacement for the original, will be enjoyable to Styx fans.

Christmas albums by rock artists are, let’s be honest, rarely worthwhile.  This one has only a handful of keepers so spend wisely.

2/5 stars

VHS Archives #17: ZZ Top talk to Much (1990)

ZZ Top sat with MuchMusic’s Terry David Mulligan to discuss the making of 1990’s Recycler, and their cameo in Back to the Future III.

These segments were recorded from a Much Spotlight.

#721: Christmas Mix 2010

GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010

Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work).  I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year.  Why did I stop?  I ran out of good Christmas songs.  Let’s face it:  unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard.  You can only take so much.  If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!

2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make.  You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there.  I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments.  I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him.  Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard.  I bought it twice.  He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs!  I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.

What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD?  Would you have wanted a copy that year?

1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  Yes, that Bill Ward!  The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it.  I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure.  Nobody paid attention.

2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”.  I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister.  This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album.  Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!

3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”.  This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style.  I played it in the car for sis.  “This is shit!” she proclaimed.  “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”

4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”.  This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf.  The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!

Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”.  This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes.  It’s just lovely.  I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download.  That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!

6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”.  Yes, it rocks, but not too hard!  Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas.  Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.

7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”.  My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called.  This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.

8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”.  Told you there would be some Hawksley.  This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.

9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”.  I must have downloaded this one too.  I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis.  I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.

10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”.  Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually.  This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”.  Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….

11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”.  This is from the first Merry Axemas.  It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy.  Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special?  Steve does it on guitar, of course!

12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”.  This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’.  Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album!  It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around.  If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.

13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”.  Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate.  “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks.  Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.

14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”.  Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes!  It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed.  Grandma didn’t like this one.

15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album.  This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.

16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”.  My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point.  She had this song before I did.  Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.

17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”.  I put this song on as the joke it is.  I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song.  “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day.  I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.”  Hey, it counts.

18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“.  In my review, I said, “Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song.   It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.”  Plus, sis likes The Darkness.

19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”.  I like this one.  Fuck off.

20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”.  From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.

21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”.  Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here.  It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs.  The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.

22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  You gotta end with a classic.  From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit.  We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio.  We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along.  “A beer…in a tree…”

 

How would you rate this one?  Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel.  I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad.  It’s listenable.  It’ll do.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Paranormal (2017 2 CD edition)

ALICE COOPER – Paranormal (2017 Edel 2 CD edition)

Both Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin had a lot to live up to with their latest collaboration Paranormal.  Excluding 2015’s covers album Hollywood Vampires, their last record together was the remarkable Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011.  Bob Ezrin has already produced one of the more impressive rock albums of 2017, Deep Purple’s InFinite.  Considering this recent track record, one might say we expect the goods this time too.

Paranormal is a great album, loaded with fantastic Alice Cooper material of different rock and roll styles.  It is not up to the level of brilliance of Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  That album (a concept album sequel) was dense with ideas and composition.  Paranormal is a step towards something less conceptual and more like a traditional album.  The big surprise this time out is the drummer:  U2’s Larry Mullen plays on 9 of the 10 core songs, and you’d never guess that without reading the credits.

The title track is impressive on its own.  It has a haunting guitar hook and vocal, and is built a bit like Alice’s horror material from the 80s.  That’s Ezrin’s pal, Roger Glover from Deep Purple on bass.  Back to the early 70s, get down with some hard rocking “Dead Flies”, but don’t let your guard down.  Relentlessly, “Fireball” blazes down the terrain, kicking aside everything not nailed down.  Alice doesn’t have anything that sounds like “Fireball” on any of his other albums.

The lead single “Paranoiac Personality” (a single worth tracking down for an exclusive live B-side) is similar to “Go to Hell” (from 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell).  It’s the kind of magic that happens only when Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin work together.  Memorable Alice Cooper rock, accessible enough for radio play, but within the personality of Alice.

Moving on to sleaze rock, “Fallen in Love” is a strong entry.  If it sounds a little greasy, that’s probably because Billy Gibbons is on it.  It’s followed by a speedy trip called “Dynamite Road” with a neat spoken-word style vocal.  It suits Alice’s storytelling lyrics.  After a couple of heavy bashers, it’s good to get back to a groove on “Private Public Breakdown”.  These are some impressive songs, each different from the other but fitting the whole.

A kickin’ horn section joins Alice on “Holy Water”, a fun and unorthodox rock and roll sermon.  Then there’s a good old fashioned punk rocker called “Rats”.  It might remind you of Michael Monroe’s classic “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  It’s the only song on disc one that Larry Mullen doesn’t play on.  “Rats” has the surviving original Alice Cooper band: Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, and Dennis Dunaway.

Going for a haunting close, there is an understated song called “The Sound of A” to end the album proper.  This truly recalls Welcome to (and 2) My Nightmare.  Original bassist Dennis Dunaway co-wrote and plays bass on the track.  Although he was not in the band during the Nightmare era, that is what immediately comes to mind.  This is the kind of song that has the potential to become an Alice classic a few years down the road.

Cooper has been generous with bonus tracks on his last few albums, and Paranormal has a fully loaded second CD.  There are two more brand new songs featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band.  Steve Hunter is also on board with some slippery slide goodness.  “Genuine American Girl” is a transgender celebration, the kind of thing that would have been cutting edge in 1972, but today is just timely.  Smith co-write this with Alice and Ezrin, and it’s a remarkably catchy little tune.  “This is no-man’s land and I live here every day” sings a gleeful Alice.  It does sound like something the original band could have played back then.  “You and All Your Friends” (Cooper/Dunaway/Ezrin) is more of an anthem.  A crowd could definitely sing along.  These two tracks serve as reminders to what great players the original band members are.  Neal Smith is absolutely a drumming maniac and Dennis Dunaway is still one of kind.

There are six more bonus tracks, all live cuts from 2016 featuring Alice’s stellar live band.  It’s good to have these, because really the only thing missing from the new songs is guitarist Nita Strauss.  She’s a monster player.  For those hoping to hear Nita on Alice’s new album, at least she’s on the bonus tracks.  The live cuts are a fairly standard selection of 70s hits (all but “Feed My Frankenstein”).  You know what you’re getting:  expertly performed Cooper classics by his gang of professional rock and roll misfits.

Paranormal is yet another late-career triumph by Alice Cooper.  It’s just a hair shy of mind blowing.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Eliminator (Collector’s Edition)

Aaron says this is the first cassette he ever bought! He picked a good ‘un.

ZZ TOP – Eliminator (2008 CD+DVD Collector’s Edition, Warner)

Consider all earlier CD releases “eliminated”!

Say what you will about ZZ Top’s foray into 80’s music.  Using sequencers and compression on the drums wasn’t everybody’s cup ‘o java, but it sure made ZZ Top millionaires.  I like this album. Reverend Billy Gibbons’ guitar tone was so sweet on this album. It’s so smooth and creamy, I just love the tone. This might be my favourite album of his, purely for guitar tone. Just listen to that sweet picking on the album version of “Legs”. Man, how does he get that sound?

The original album has been lovingly remastered, with the original album version of “Legs” restored. However, fear not, the single version is still here as a bonus track. Other bonus tracks include live versions, the most exciting of which is a fiery “I Got The Six”. And hey, if you don’t like the techno sounds of the album, the live tunes give you an idea of what they’re like stripped down to the bone…like a juicy rack of ribs, meat falling right off.  It’s cool how Frank Beard is just as metronomic on the live versions. He’s not a flamboyant drummer, but he’s definitely solid. Just like the Beatles wouldn’t have sounded the same without Ringo, or the Stones without Charlie, Frank is essential to that whole ZZ “Je ne sais quoi?”

I like the whole album, with only a few songs I call filler, such as “Thug”. I always enjoy hearing “Sharp Dressed Man”. I don’t know how all these years later I’m not sick of it, but I’m not. “TV Dinners” always makes me smile. Really, will these guys write about anything?

“I Need You Tonight” is one of those smooth ZZ Top blues.  It’s slick, but unquestionably still blues.  “If I Could Only Flag Her Down” is another blues based standout.  This one’s a bit more of a boogie.  Finally, “Bad Girl” (sung by Dusty Hill) is pure rock and roll.

The DVD is cool.  You get the original music videos and some live TV performances.  If you’re a ZZ Top fan (and for your own happiness, I hope that you are) I think you will enjoy the video stuff. Liner notes are also ample.

5/5 stars.  It’s never too late to pick it up!

Click the pic of the Ford to see yesterday’s gallery of the Monogram ZZ Top Eliminator model kit!

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…and here’s your CD gallery.