Full Moon / Warner Brothers Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/18/2003
The more I listen to ZZ Top over the years, the more I realize that going through their albums is not unlike riding a rollercoaster. Billy Gibbons and crew came off of the low that was Tejas with one of their best albums, Deguello, in 1979. One had to wonder whether their follow-up album would continue to see ZZ Top soar, or if they would come barreling down the hill with another half-hearted effort.
El Loco, ZZ Top's 1981 release (and seventh album overall), regrettably didn't reflect the musical recharging of batteries that Deguello did, and is a disappointment when compared to their previous effort, but this disc isn't totally without merit.
The two songs off of El Loco which get significant airplay on classic rock radio -- "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace" -- are, unfortunately, the best songs on this disc. Continuing in the blues-boogie vein which became their bread and butter, ZZ Top drive these songs home courtesy of an infectious bass line from Dusty Hill, Gibbons's fluid guitar work and a solid backbeat from Frank Beard. In a sense, one can't be too unhappy with these tracks, since they do carry on the successes that ZZ Top forged on Deguello with songs like "Cheap Sunglasses," and they do prove to be worthy follow-ups.
Possibly the one track which will be overlooked on El Loco because of its quirkiness is "Heaven, Hell Or Houston" -- featuring a creepy yet funny spoken vocal line delivered in a mock Vincent Price style. Again, one needs only to go back to Deguello and "Manic Mechanic" to see the bloodline of this track -- but there's something unique about this particular song which makes it one you'll find yourself going back to time and time again. Namely, it's fun to listen to, blues purity be damned for just three minutes.
If only the rest of El Loco were as infectious. Granted, the bulk of this disc isn't as tired-sounding as Tejas was, but it's hardly the level of musical success that fans had come to expect from ZZ Top. Tracks like "Leila," "I Wanna Drive You Home" and, to an extent, "Don't Tease Me" all fail to hit the mark. Are they bad tracks? I wouldn't go that far. Instead, they have the atmosphere of being throw-away songs -- tracks which might have been written for other albums but were not deemed to be strong enough to make the cut. of (Like other discs in The ZZ Top Sixpack, which is where I have my copy of El Loco, I'm willing to concede that the absolutely crappy remix of these albums could be more than a minor contribution to this feeling.)
And yet, there is the occasional pang of questioning I feel when listening to this disc. I have to wonder what it could have been had there been some stronger work on El Loco. I mean, "Don't Tease Me" isn't a terrible track, and could have been something to watch had it been given a little more attention (especially in the mix). "Party On The Patio" is the kind of track which could start impromptu keggers in the street, but it's so far buried on this disc that its power is somewhat blunted by the time you do get to it.
El Loco might not be ZZ Top's worst album, and it does suggest that the band learned some lessons with the success of Deguello. But it also doesn't hold a candle to some of their best work, suggesting that not all their lessons had been learned on Tejas. Fortunately, another extended break was coming up for the band - one which would lead to the album that would vault them into superstar level.