Album review: ZZ Top, Antenna (1994)



By Steve Newton

Twenty years or so ago, I impulsively laid down $2.50 for a used copy of ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres LP, which sounded like hard-rock heaven on my $175 Phillips stereo system. Back then I viewed ZZ Top as a great new heavy-metal find, but what I didn’t realize was that ZZ Top was giving my thirsty ears their first serious dose of straight-up blues-rock. Later on I would feel indebted to the band for that kindness, and as each ZZ Top album was released I’d eagerly snap it up, hoping to re-create the joyous buzz I got from Tres Hombres.

Up until about 1983 I figured ZZ Top was doing all right, but about the time of its breakthrough Eliminator release, the group’s Texas-fried blues edge started to take a backseat to its super-cool image: bearded banditos with suits, shades, and choreographed stage moves. By 1990 the convoluted Recycler album saw the band hit an all-time musical low.

Perhaps Billy Gibbons and company realized they’d struck bottom then, because Recycler’s follow-up, Antenna, is a real turnaround. A supposed tribute to the high-powered Mexican border stations of the ’50s and ’60s that influenced the band, Antenna sees the band getting back to its spare, swamp-rock sound of old.

Simplistic stompers like “World of Swirl”, “PCH”, and “Cherry Red” are the band’s best party tunes in years, and Gibbons’s razor-edge guitar work sparkles throughout. The group still falters now and again, but it’s definitely on the right track. That $30-million record deal with RCA must have perked the boys up a bit.

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