Eliminator, by ZZ Top
Suggested by Michael Sylvian
ZZ Top don’t know how to finish a song. As at least two of them don’t know how to finish a beard, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Of the eleven mid-tempo pure rockin’ offerings on their seminal Eliminator, a full seven of them simply fade to black while the band play on. Three of them stop on a dime, an abrupt strike of the snare drum and we’re done, as if the electricity meter needs another fifty pee. The remaining song, I Need You Tonight, tries to stop on a dime, but someone forgot to tell the guitarist so he noodles on for a few bars before unsuccessfully styling it out with an embarrassed slouch.
Also, “Seminal Eliminator” is now my go-to slang phrase for penis.
ZZ Top have a basic, uncultured Status Quo vibe, as if they’ve theorised the component parts of a song and are happy to cut and paste it ad infinitum. It’s hard to imagine this simple rocking blues fare as being any kind of groundbreaking, but in 1983 it was a powerhouse release, championing the use of synthesizers on rock albums, so fair play to them. It spawned three legendary tracks: Gimme All Your Lovin’, Legs, and my standout Sharp Dressed Man.
Musically, while the Texan three-piece are innovators of the rockin’ synth sound, their string and skin work is rudimentary. Similarly, while Billy Gibbons has a middle-range rock gruffness that’s certainly recognisable, it’s hardly show-stopping. And lyrically, they didn’t exactly bring the purplest prose to the book club, dear me no.
Let’s look at Sharp Dressed Man. Of the three songs above, it provides the best lyrics, with a roll-call of smart-formal clothes interwoven with boasts. Some of them are a little strained, such as “Cufflinks, stick pin / When I step out I’m gonna do you in”, but overall it gets a pass. There’s a reason it’s my standout, after all.
Let’s look at Gimme All Your Lovin’, a favourite of mine back in the Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine days. First, there’s the tortured first verse, which concludes with “You’ve got to make it hot / Like a boomerang I need a repeat.” Then there’s the very telling chorus refrain, “Gimme all your lovin’ / All your hugs and kisses too,” which suggests that the band do not view hugs and kisses as a constituent part of “lovin’,” and are thus either emotionally stunted or exemplars of sexual impropriety.
Finally, let’s look at Legs, in particular the quoted line “She’s got legs / She knows how to use them.” Either the band are saying “here is a woman, a woman who can walk,” or, more sinisterly, they’re reporting on a crazed serial slasher, who harvests the legs of her victims and uses them for her own twisted and nefarious needs (… … … draft excluders?). This song also contains the line “She’s’ got hair down to her fanny,” which can’t help but raise this Englishman’s eyebrow.
The other songs on Eliminator are cookie-cutter fare, with maybe Thug delivering more than the sum of its parts. Overall, I give the album a formulaic 5/10, as it doesn’t colour outside the lines at any point. ZZ Top have been rocking for over fifty years, so the formula obviously works.