Brooks & Dunn’s year-old TNN special on ZZ Top laid out everything you must know about the band. If ZZ answered a single query from the duo with more than a smug titter, I didn’t hear it.
That’s Mescalero: a sphinx-like composition memorable for chortling and cryptic hotfoots. The guitars are flanged, tweezed, low-filter-oscillated, and hot-buttered to the farcical extent Billy Gibbons loves. Plus, just for rich Texan annoyance, some intros and outros are mastered ruptured—so the stereo squawks.
Accidentally on purpose, the songs that rock hardest aren’t rockers—”Que Lastima” and the waltzing “What Would You Do.” And the best barn-burn shouting is furnished by the guy who sings least: Dusty Hill, in “Piece.”
You get the Billy G. fetish with the voice of the old black man sittin’ on the porch at the poon farm outside La Grange. It’s a fingernails-on-chalkboard-type throat-clearing effect in “Me So Stupid,” a song that works as an IQ test. If you listen more than 30 seconds, you flunk.
Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” returns to a beloved high-school r&b lick and then—ptooo!—here comes a squirting plastic flower. This time, it’s a mumbling car salesman with tertiary syphilis or something.
Another godsend is “Crunchy,” an instrumental made into pepper gum by the cretin babble glued on as its vocal. And just when you think Mescalero is over, you’re served “As Time Goes By” until way more than enough time has gone by.
I’ve come to expect and relish the practical jokes—haw haw haw haw—that are modern ZZ Top records. This one’s much better than XXX, maybe even ahead of Rhythmeen. Don’t expect “Francine.” But the title easily could have come from the same people who wrote Tejas.
“Todavia Tres Hombres: On My Way Down to Mexico, There Was Trouble on the Rise” by Dave Queen
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 28, 2003