After a nine year absence from the airwaves, the bearded ones from the great state of Texas have returned and they’ve brought all of the weather and wear of that state's dusty roads with them. With uber-producer Rick Rubin at the helm, the 4 song EP Texacali is less a return to form for the trio than it is a shot across the bow of the modern crop of “blues rockers” who have attempted to lay claim to the throne that ZZ Top practically single handedly built.
The work they did from around 1983 to around 1987 produced some of the most iconic songs of not just the decade, but rock and roll period. Tracks like “Gimme All Your Lovin”, “Sleeping Bag”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and the absolutely unstoppable “Legs” very much defined what it meant to be cool for a generation of rockers. And while all of the hand signals, cars, synthesizers and layers of new wave-ish production that were piled on still added up to the pinnacle of cool, stylistically speaking, it was arguably a space that the group had no need to explore or indulge. Pre Eliminator tracks like “Tush”, “I Thank You”, “Cheap Sunglasses”, and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” got by on their gritty cool and rattlesnake guitar tone.
With a classic overdriven blues shuffle rumbling out from Billy Gibbons' guitar, opener “I Gotsta Get Paid” harkens back to those pre-Eliminator days, keeping things rocking by keeping them simple. It’s as tight as the band has ever sounded. With it’s heart beating as close to that of Rock and Roll as anything you’ve likely heard since the glorious days where everything was all dazed and confused and the party at the moon tower was only a few short days away, it rolls up everything that used to be right in rock and roll into one incredibly potent four minute and 3 second joint.
And while it’s clear that Gibbon’s guitar chops haven’t suffered over the years, the same can’t be said for his voice. In the context of ZZ Top though, his gravely, almost wounded delivery provides an extra layer of gravitas and emotion to the songs. The humor, and cocksureness is still present in giant doses, but now there’s an almost wounded quality to his voice that gives ZZ-Top’s music something it practically never had before: A heart.
The remaining three songs on the EP - “Chartreuse” with it’s libidinous abandon, the bottom of the Mississippi sludge of “Consumption” and “Over You”, their obligatory (and remarkably effective) power ballad - all wear the trappings of the bands newly reinvigorated roughness, and as such come together to make Texicali a surprisingly tight release for a band this far into their career. Supposedly meant to be nothing more than a teaser for a full length to come later on in the year, it could easily be argued that a series of releases, fifteen minute bursts of cool spread out over the coming months, might serve the band, and their audience, better than the potential for bloat and filler that sixty minutes of this stuff may present.
With Texicali, ZZ Top have sort of done the impossible. In four quick shots of straightforward Texas blues they’ve managed to convince listeners to actually care that a band long ago relegated to the “used to be’s” circuit is making new music in 2012. For a band whose reputation was built on, and eventually came to be the very definition of, cool, that may be the coolest trick they've pulled in their entire career.