ZZ Top

RCA, 2003

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


At some point in their career, you had to know that ZZ Top was going to get tired of trying to recreate the flashpoint of success they experienced with Eliminator. They were going to have to return to their blooze-rock roots and just crank out the tunes.

But their attempts to do this met with limited success, both in terms of execution and popularity. Antenna and Rhythmeen were decent enough (if sometimes unsteady) efforts, and XXX was an absolute flop. And, there's no denying that the sales numbers were nowhere near what discs like Eliminator or Afterburner moved.

With Mescalero, ZZ Top's fourth and final disc for RCA, Billy Gibbons and company apparently adopted a “to hell with it” attitude and just crafted music they liked, and stayed closer to their roots, even if it wasn't strictly blues-based. And – surprise, surprise – it works.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, if you go into this disc expecting to hear the musical brilliance that was on Eliminator or the same kind of studio polish, you're going to be sorely disappointed. If anything, this seems to carry forward what they were doing on Rhythmeen, albeit with a more distorted, heavier bass line (which I can't say I'm a huge fan of). But if you go into this expecting to hear a band who has nothing to prove, and just wants to get to playing some music that feels like it would be a perfect fit on either side of the Tex-Mex border…then, you should be pleased.

While none of the songs on Mescalero jump out as being tracks you'd regularly hear on the radio – and it sure seems like Gibbons self-censors himself a few times throughout the course of this disc – there are plenty of songs which you'll find yourself tapping your foot to. “Alley-Gator,” “Buck Nekkid,” and “Crunchy” are surprisingly fun, as is “Me So Stupid.”

Gibbons's voice is definitely sounding strained throughout the album, and bassist Dusty Hill is underutilized as a lead vocalist this time around. As for Frank Beard – well, his drumming has always been dependable, and I admit I'm getting more used to the different sounds generated by his kit on this one.

There are a few throwaways on this one, too. “Punk Ass Boyfriend” and “Piece” both just don't light up the speakers. And while one can understand why ZZ Top would do a song like “Que Lastima” (yes, it's all in Spanish), it doesn't grab me like I would have hoped it could have.

Did Mescalero deserve to be one of ZZ Top's most forgotten albums? No; surprisingly, this is one of the best of their post-Eliminator career, and deserves to be rediscovered. And I think if the band members could have their way, it would be rediscovered over a plate of nachos and a bottle of tequila.

Rating: B-

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