Tuesday, 16 September 2008

“Eliminator CD/DVD” by ZZ TOP. A Sharp-Dressed Reissue? Well, Yes and No…

Released on LP and Cassette in March 1983 on Warner Brothers, the blues boogie of “Eliminator” was an absolute phenomenon for the Texas trio ZZ Top.

They’d been bubbling under for years - “La Grange” in 1973, “Tush” in 1975 - and a minor hit with “I Thank You” in 1980. But none of it even remotely indicated what would happen in 1983 and 1984. “Eliminator” – one of the best boogie albums ever made – changed everything for them and us - it was little short of absolute global domination.

It was a combination of things - the umpteen tracks that were all single/radio friendly hits, the emergence of rotation MTV, the videos with leggy sexy babes – the fabulous 1956 coupe car – the ZZ TOP keyring flying through the air to the hapless buck trying to be a 'sharp dressed man' - the image of dusty dudes with beards - all of it combined in one heady mix to produce domestic sales in the USA topping 10 million with the same number estimated for the rest of the world. And if you take into account second-hand sales since that heady time 25 years ago and an early issue on CD, you’re looking at a “Rumours”, a “Purple Rain” and a “Thriller”. This September 2008 (delayed release) has it good points and bad though…

Here’s the layout first:

Disc 1 (78:27 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 11 are the album REMASTERED in its entirety with the original lengthier mix of “Legs” at 4:34 minutes re-instated for the first time (it was replaced after initial pressings by the shorter single mix of 3:37 minutes)
Tracks 12 to 18 are bonus tracks; 12 is the single mix of “Legs”; 13 to 17 are 5 previously unreleased live tracks (13, 14, 16 and 17 recorded at Castle Donington Festival in Leicestershire in England, while 15 was recorded at The Marquee Club in London – no dates supplied)
Track 18 is the 12” “Dance Mix” of “Legs”

The remastering of the album is FANTASTIC – muscular, in your living room, detailed – all that it should have been these last two and half decades. I’ve waited years to hear “I Need You Tonight” in this sound quality and it was worth it. But the really bad news is the audio bonus tracks, which are a huge letdown. The live versions have what is laughable called ‘audio restoration’ on them – they sound like rubbish bootleg recordings – someone standing in a field with a microphone held up. The truly awful extended mix of “Legs” was on the box set anyway – unlistenable then and the same now. Worse - there are single edits of “Gimme All Your Lovin” and “Sharp Dressed Man”, but maddeningly they’re not included here - they should have been - it would have been far more appropriate to a supposed ‘collector’s edition’. Also there’s nothing new worth hearing – no outtakes, alternatives, no demos, no new songs – nothing. Really disappointing stuff I’m afraid. The album is great, but the supposed bonuses are awful.

Things fare better on the 2nd disc, an 8-track DVD. First up are the 4 famous videos that broke the album with a worldwide TV audience and their inclusion on this ‘special edition’ is only right and proper - they were such an integral part of the “Eliminator” experience. The prints are clean, but unfortunately blurry in that cheap 1980s kind of a way. They’re fun to re-watch, but not much more than that. Things get considerably better with tracks 5 to 8, which are professionally filmed studio performances. They were recorded live in front of a studio audience on 17 November 1983 for one the UK’s popular pop programs of the time - “The Tube”. The sound and visuals are great and while the vocals are live, I’m fairly sure some tweaking has been done to beef up the sound. Whatever way you look at it – this is primo ZZ TOP and makes up somewhat for the disappointing crap that is tail-ending the Audio CD. Fans will really enjoy these.

The packaging isn’t great either - a gatefold digipak with a 20-page booklet. The layers under the see-through trays have no photos of singles – outtakes – they’re blank – pretty crappy really. The car’s pictured a couple of times, lyrics reproduced, a basic essay on the album – but no real event feel to it – no live shots – no interesting formats pictured – fan stuff left out – it’s basic really, when it could have been so much better.

In truth, you’d have to say that if Rhino had just issued the remaster of the album with the single edits and the 12” mix added on at the end – then that would have been so much better. As it is, you’re being asked to spend £13 to £16 on a package that smacks of laziness and greed - and worse – leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth - an underwhelming experience that should have been a real celebration of a really great album…

To sum up – fantastic remaster of the album, good stuff on the DVD, but docked a star for the rubbish filler at the end of Disc 1.

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