Sunday, September 16, 2007

ZZ TOP, Greatest Hits
LYNYRD SKYNYRD, Lynyrd Skynyrd box set
Melody Maker, 1993

Like 'funk', like 'raunch', boogie is one of those rock'n'roll concepts that are elemental and un-analysable. There's probably some Rockschool equations that could enable you to go through the motions, but musicology can't endow or explain "feel", or account for the continuum that links such disparate instances as Led Zep's "Black Dog", T.Rex' "Get It On", Budgie's "Whisky River", MBV's "Slow",
the Stones' "Can Ya Hear Me Knocking", Soundgarden's "Outshined".

Anyways, there ain't a lot of it about these days, least of all this side of the Atlantic. Brit-rock today emits an astounding dearth of rhythmic heat. The drums in most Anglo-indie merely mark time, nobody knows how to groove. For all the calls in these pages for a return to Seventies perversity and caprice (nice rhetoric, I'll prick up when somebody makes a record as freaky and regal as Ritual de Lo Habitual) let's not forget that half of what made T.Rex was the bottom end. Without the love-muscle-quaking slip'n'slide, Bolan was mere tinsel and glitterdust.

When it comes to smokin' rhythmic interplay, Brit-rock whippersnappers could learn a few tricks and licks from ZZ Top: arch-conservatives maybe, but there's little they don't know about the science of friction. The best tracks on this variable compilation come from that period (1979's Deguello, 1981's El Loco) just before the Texans' commercial breakthrough with Eliminator. "Cheap Sunglasses" is just so doggone funky; these old farts are survivors of an era when heavy rock had more in common with James Brown and The Meters than it does with the frigid frenzy of today's metal. Cutting between a low-down, dirty bass-shuffle and eerie, fractured bridge passages that are almost Oriental, "Sunglasses" is dada-boogie worthy of Beefheart's Clear Spot). Filtered through New Wave minimalism, "Pearl Necklace" has an almost Zen geometrical perfection. And with "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide", an ode to the pimp-rollin' pleasures of low-rider driving, ZZ lumber so limber.

The Eliminator stuff's just fine: is there anyone possessed of a booty who can resist the honeyed bludgeon of "Gimme All Your Lovin'"? Thereafter, with the lame Afterburner and Recycler, ZZ's bluesy raunch sat uneasily
on top of programmed beats more appropriate to Janet Jackson. And even the deftest programmer can't get drum machines to elasticate time like a seasoned rhythm section.

Even deeper into the mire of bad-ass, at the very heart of the only outlawed zone of rock history yet to be rehabilitated, lie Lynyrd Skynyrd: real rednecks, men's men, hell-raisers and blues bastardisers. This 3-CD 'definitive collection' has plenty of dreary good-times boogie and sentiment-choked honky tonk. But the best stuff (influenced by British blues-rock, a roundabout route for these Southron
boys to get to their black neighbours music) churns with seething, swampy, turgid turmoil that's irresistible, even if you have to fumigate your bedroom afterwards.

With their underclass disaffection and scowlin', prowlin' menace, Lynyrd were punks, sort of ("Working For MCA" pre-empted the Pistols' "EMI", and "Needle and The Spoon" contains a chord sequence suspiciously akin to "Submission"). Their stagnant-but-feverish sound was a perfect metaphor for the post-counter culture slough of despond. Like the films of Sam Peckinpah, Ronnie Van Sant's lyrics mourn the lost possiblity of being your "own man" in the untamed American wilderness.

That's the real meaning of the 'love 'em 'n'leave 'em' epic "Freebird", whose endless solo reaches such peaks of agonised lyricism that it's like a Dixie cousin to Television's "Marquee Moon". Van Sant's songs vacillated between "comin' home" and running scared of settled life, but he recognised that the outlaw life was a curse as much as blessing. "Saturday Night Special" (anti-gun ownership) and "That Smell" (anti-drug abuse) attack evils with an inside knowledge. Skynyrd are one third of where G'N'R come from, and, methinks, the next logical step for Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub.


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