The object of my affections today has seen better days. Its’ cover is a little tatty in places, there is a little more surface noise than I’d like and the actual LP is pressed on the thinnest, cheapest vinyl you can imagine – 180g? 40g more like! But there is a reason why I splurged more than I usually do on a, then, 18 year-old LP on a Brazilian eBay listing back in November 2012. That reason was because it is ZZ Top Antenna from 1994, which was only released on vinyl in certain select territories in South America and bits of Europe – the rest of us being totally in thrall to CDs – a self-perpetuating myth, curse you RCA!
Now ZZ Top and I parted company a bit after I bought Recycler on cassette, I remember it being okay and then lost all interest in what they were doing as I started to explore their back catalogue before the mighty Eliminator*. So Antenna totally passed me by until years and years later when I may have accidentally downloaded it illegally and began to see I may have missed something worth having, however like the other RCA albums XXX, Rhythmeen and Mescalero** I thought it just didn’t exist on good old vinyl. Imagine my joy when I found it.
The shadow of Eliminator looms large over Antenna, as it does over all their subsequent albums up until La Futura, and the weaker tracks like ‘World of Swirl’ (a straight rip of ‘Lap of Luxury’) and ‘Cherry Red’ (umm, also a straight rip of ‘Lap of Luxury’!) are the ones which copy that formula more slavishly. It’s where ZZ Top add some of their own special sauce that Antenna really scores.
Sauce being the operative word when it comes to the likes of ‘Fuzzbox Voodoo’ – now call me a mucky-minded Welshman but I suspect that there might be one of those fancy double entendres, umm, going down right there. Don’t make me spell it out for you^.
I went down with the fuzzbox
Grinding a pound or two
Say I’m down, with a fuzzbox
Pounding and a workin’ it through
The same Fairlight-transformed beats are all present and correct, but there is a layer of genuine rust beneath the chrome and the song is all the better for it. Plus, unlike some, ZZ Top’s double entendres, no matter how outrageous, just make me smile rather than wince, it’s done in fun. Absolutely everything I just wrote also goes for the primitive ‘Girl in a T-shirt’, far less dust, more lust than a lot of the tracks they had been banging out, plus some pure guitar brilliance that’s so heavily distorted that I can’t tell if Gibbons is playing slide or not.
The 1537 gold prize for best track on Antenna goes to the paean to safe sex that is ‘Cover Your Rig’. A very distant cousin to ‘Sure Got Cold When The Rain Fell’, this is a far less jokey track than the lyrics would suggest. In fact so sombre, rueful and heartfelt is the mood, I would speculate that it was penned on the back porch of some Texan STD clinic^^. It features more of that beautiful lyrical paying that Gibbons just seems to be able conjure up once per LP, maximum. More people should know this song.
Antenna got its’ title from the band’s early love of radio and there’s one just visible behind those funny triangular dudes on the LP cover. There’s a neat little essay on it (almost sleevenotes!) on the inner sleeve, which quotes the ZZ’s own ‘Heard it on The X’ and alludes to great tunes, mixed up with ‘Bible-thumpin’ evangelists, tonic peddlers and Wolfman-alikes’. A primordial dose of pure Americana, a shot of 100% proof new world; it may be real , it may be mythic but then these three have never steered away from the odd yarn.
There you have it, fine tunes all and I haven’t even mentioned the rocking ‘Pincushion’ or the wistful ‘Breakaway’ yet! I’d recommend Antenna to one and all, particularly to vinyl freakys like myself. We chosen few, we band of plastic brothers, we actually triumph over the nasty little silver things this time out – we get a bonus track^*, ‘Everything’ only available on the Japanese CD version (I think). It’s a funny little curio too, the beat-box like drums and vox almost taking us into Was Not Was territory before that guitar gets unsheathed again, more of a moral victory than a stand-out hidden gem, but certainly not a bad ‘un.
Good on you Brazil!
*I already had Rio Grande Mud and had already sold El Loco (never could get on with that album), but let’s keep it nice and simplified here.
**all variable quality, but some good on each of them.
^Fuzzbox = Lady garden. Sort of Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, in reverse.
^^Rancho Discreeto? Hot damn, that’s such a fine title I’m going to form a new romantic style ZZ Top cover band called ZZ Fop immediately, just so I can use it. Anyone else up for it?
^*you heard me right Ladano!