ZZ Top - 1985 Afterburner

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ARTIST: ZZ Top
ALBUM: Afterburner
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: 9 25342-1 (vinyl), 9 25342-2 (CD)
YEAR: 1985

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image

LINEUP: Billy Gibbons - vocals, guitar * Dusty Hill - vocals, bass * Frank Beard - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sleeping Bag * 02 Stages * 03 Woke Up With Wood * 04 Rough Boy * 05 Can't Stop Rockin' * 06 Planet Of Women * 07 I Got The Message * 08 Velcro Fly * 09 Dripping Low (In The Lap Of Luxury) * 10 Delirious

Background

Although ZZ Top had begun tampering with their Texas blues sound as far back as 1979's 'Deguello', it wasn't until 1983's 'Eliminator' that the alteration was complete. With a heavy influx of synthesizers into their usual sound, ZZ Top reached new levels of commercial success with their high tech approach.

'Eliminator' shifted millions upon millions, thanks to hits like 'Legs', 'Gimme All Your Lovin' and 'Sharp Dressed Man', songs so catchy they are destined to remain on rock radio forever.

It came as little surprise then that 85's 'Afterburner' varied little from its predecessor, the results equally as satisfying. More hits were obtained with 'Sleeping Bag', 'Stages' and 'Rough Boy', the album itself reaching no 2.

The Songs

The music was still basically heavy, but the synth work overpowers everything in sight, and 'Sleeping Boy' is the poster child for mid 80's digital wizardry.

As unlikely as it seemed, the band were competent AOR practitioners, as 'Stages' is nothing but. The whole flow of verse meets chorus is melodic excitement and the keyboards add to the flavour.

To even this out 'Woke Up With Wood' reverts back to simpler hard rock ground, if not as addictive. Putting this right is the uncharacteristic ballad 'Rough Boy', amazingly executed, full of thrilling precision in the synth vs guitar interplay.

'Can't Stop Rockin' banishes thoughts of any softness, a fist pounding rocker with a pulsating, headbanging beat. There's a string of lesser tracks following, 'Planet Of Women', 'I Got The Message' and 'Velcro Fly' are so singularly dominated by keyboards, that the emphasis is taken from the choruses which fall flat.

At times I'd swear this was Loverboy, particularly 'Delirious' which makes use of the vocoder, to achieve that robotic voice effect. By now the melodies all sound the same, the band running out of ideas.

In Summary

ZZ Top all but disappeared for five years after the tour, 1990's 'Recycler' being the eventual comeback. It was a limp copy of the previous two albums and was a relative failure. Following albums saw a return to their 70's roots, the last album being 1999's 'XXX', excellent heavy blues sludge.

'Afterburner' rates with the best of ZZ Top's output, although you sense a dearth of originality as the album progresses, the repeating of ideas all too obvious. Still you can't go wrong with 'Stages', 'Rough Boy' and 'Can't Stop Rockin', all must hear 80's hard rock.


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