Review Summary: That name though...
Seriously, ZZ Top, what were you thinking" I mean, I guess there isn't much more you can do after the afterburning... So, five years have passed since ZZ Top stormed the charts for the second time with an album, which was the direct sequel to one of the most famous albums of all time that is Eliminator. Time to come up with something new, right" Heck no. Here's more of the same thing. And we're calling it Recycler. Get it"... Sigh. Once you get past that though, there is a really strong album to be found here.
Songs are generally slower than on the last album, giving the songs more time to flow and Billy Gibbons to shine on guitar. The guitar sound is more rough, very much like on Eliminator. Frank Beard's playing feels more real. The drums still sound a bit processed, but at least it's clear that it's a human being behind the kit, not a robot. The synth use is more restrained, it only pops up in the background and is generally put to good use, making the songs more glamorous but not dominating them.
For the most part the album doesn't rock too hard, which combined with the name of the album might lead to a wrong conclusion that the band is washed up and doesn't have anything interesting to say. Of course it's not completely unjustified, especially when first four tracks are all mid-tempo and listening to them feels pretty much like as if it was just four weaker "TV Dinners" one after another. Only "Concrete And Steel" stands out from the mentioned bunch, which can make it hard to digest the first half of Recycler. But then it gets better.
"My Head's in Mississippi" is the only straightforward blues song on Recycler. Listening to their eighties smash hits might make you forget what a great blues band ZZ Top are. In 1990 they finally recorded something not only in vein of their early material but totally on par with any of their classic songs from the 70s. The guitar riff is instantly recognizable and the nonsense lyrics make it extremely fun to listen to. Unfortunately for the blues purists, this is the only such song here. But don't worry, they may not be blues but there are two songs on Recycler that are even better.
Another one of the standouts is "Give It Up", which has yet another classic riff, this time driving a mid-tempo rocker, that also features the most electronic sounds thrown in, but they are working well. The other one is "Doubleback", the song that was featured in "Back To The Future III". It's basically in the same vein as "Give It Up", only with less synthesizer and more diverse vocal performance from Gibbons. There isn't much more to say about them, except for the fact that they would still standout if they were put on Eliminator. So play them now, what are you waiting for"
"Decision or Collision" and "Burgerman" are younger brothers of songs like "Can't Stop Rocking" or "I Got The Six". Pretty generic may I add. "2000 blues" is a ballad, typical for that period of ZZ Top's career, with really good guitar solos. It also features synth in the background that makes me think of music from the TV series "Twin Peaks" a little. Oh, and one more noteworthy thing about the album - Dusty Hill doesn't get a song to sing this time, he sticks to backing vocals.
Recycler is definitely not the best ZZ Top release, but it's a step up from the mess that was Afterburner. While some of the tracks may feel, well, recycled, it's nonetheless a consistent release with some of the best song the band has to offer. It was their last album to feature multiple hit singles that also stood the test of time. After the disappointment of their next release, they've never reached the same commercial heights again. They did more or less return to their blues roots though.
Give It Up
My Head's In Mississippi
Concrete And Steel