RCA Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/25/1997
The Texas trio better known as ZZ Top realized something a few years ago: the days of Eliminator are over.
Realizing they will probably never again reach the height of popularity they did in 1984, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard and Dusty Hill dug back into their past and re-discovered the blues-rock root they were banging out when they started back in the early '70s. Unfortunately, their first effort in that vein in some time, Antenna, was a poor attempt in both the songwriting and performance category. Sure, "Pincushion" was a decent song, but one song does not an album make.
Their latest effort, Rhythmeen, is a major improvement in both areas, giving the boys something they haven't had in almost 10 years: an enjoyable album. (Too bad it's been critically and commercially ignored.)
The first single, "What's Up With That," shows ZZ Top finally capturing the groove that has eluded them in their last few releases. Gibbons' guitar work is in fine form, as is the drumming of Beard. (Beard made the mistake of switching to electronic drums back in their heyday; on Rhythmeen, he shows just how good acoustic drums sound.)
The title track opens the album and hooks the listener in with its smooth but funky groove; this is what ZZ Top was known for when they started out and produced some of their best material. The dance continues with "Bang Bang," a song which shows the trio knows how to whip out the groove yet still not take themselves too seriously, a mistake they made with "Cover Your Rig" on Antenna.
While a few tracks like "Black Fly" show a little weakness, other cuts like "Vincent Price Blues" redeem ZZ Top quickly. Hill's subtle bass work combines with Beard's drumming to create a hypnotizing backbeat, while Gibbons' guitar work provides the icing to the blues-rock cake. Also worth checking out are "Hairdresser," "My Mind Is Gone," "Zipper Job" and "Humbucking Part 2."
While the days of the MTV-like popularity are long gone, ZZ Top do what they do best on Rhythmeen, and prove to their fans (and themselves) that these are the good old days.