ZZ Top: A Double-Sided Take on the New Texicali EP

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Craig Hlavaty: What a way to tease your first album of original material in nine years, ZZ Top. You managed to record three songs and one ballad that instantly fit into your canon alongside the rest of your ballbusters without sounding like a classic-rock act reaching for straws.

This is no weak, middling effort, and with the short running time, it allows listeners to digest the work without overload. Why can't more acts release four songs at a time? Draw it out, milk it, give us a few courses before the main dish, the album. Plus, we don't mind giving you our money.

The mixing on Texicali shoves the band's trademark blues/rock/filth directly into your ears, with Rick Rubin's imagineering leading the charges. Everything about this effortless effort is pitch-perfect. They aren't trying to reinvent the wheel, they are regulating.

We all heard "I Gotsta Get Paid" teased on that Jeremiah Weed commercial and they have made good on the promise of that snippet. It's everything you want and need from a ZZ Top song. "Chartreuse" comes with an echo of "La Grange" at the start, and then eases into a grinding gallop.

This shit drips from their fingers, and that fact makes me sad, that it took so long for new music to come out. My favorite here, though, is "Consumption," which I think I listened to ten times when it leaked last week. It's sleek without sounding too modern, and does this weird tunnel thing around 3:33.

"Over You" is the only thing here that I didn't listen to a dozen times while writing this review. When ZZ slows down, it's more challenging for me, but lyrically Gibbons is slaying it. There is a touch of Sam Cooke to it, without getting schmaltzy. Digging the torchy guitar attached on the end, too.

The only tragedy here seems to be that I cannot physically make this any louder inside my earholes right now without causing permanent damage. "More, more, more!" said the baby.

Chris Gray: I got a haircut Saturday, and while I was waiting I read a review of ZZ Top's 1976 album Tejas in an old issue of Circus magazine. The writer spent the first half recounting, with an aghast tone of "those crazy Texans" horror, the hilarious backstory behind the song "Master of Sparks." (Which is here.) The rest of it, he registered the now-familiar complaint that Billy, Frank and Dusty are just making the same record over and over again. Perhaps that was the first time.

More than 35 years later, not much has changed. Although I have a soft spot for "Arrested for Driving While Blind" and "She's a Heartbreaker," I admit Tejas is not a great album, and a significant lull between the band's previous and next all-studio LPs. But those are called Tres Hombres and Deguello. I suspect history may be kinder to the Texicali EP, released online today, and then the full album hopefully to follow this fall.

Texicali opens with Jeremiah Weed jingle "Gotsta Get Paid," which uses some lines and a general H-town swagger from DJ DMD, Fat Pat & Lil Keke's late-'90s Screwed Up Click staple "25 Lighters." That fact is both incredibly cool and totally inconsequential, because the song is 100 percent Billy Gibbons grind all the way, with Dusty Hill chiming in "I gotsta get paid" like a high-pitched exclamation point.

The source of "Chartreuse" is even closer to home than "25 Lighters": "La Grange." The opening lick, Frank Beard's shuffling rhythm and just about everything else about the song is a dead ringer for that set-closing Tres Hombres standard, but, hey, it worked the first time.

"Consumption" is a showpiece for Gibbons's scattergun guitar, and it's difficult to tell if he's massaging his axe or abusing it but effective all the same. Then we close with "Over You," a brokenhearted last-call ballad that might be the closest ZZ gets to the pop charts since Afterburner. Are those strings?

Yes they are. Some of their past rock-star "Master of Sparks" exploits aside, ZZ Top have always been bluesmen: Cool, unflappable, but forever pining over some broad. Now they have some really fancy gear and encyclopedic knowledge of studio alchemy and producer/boss/fourth beard Rick Rubin. That all makes the EP sound wonderful, especially loud.

And they still gotsta get paid. Even if you can only buy Texicali online for now, it sure is good to have them back in stores.

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