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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Review - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ

Artist: ZZ Top

Posted on Thu, Oct 30, 2003 at 4:00 AM

When ZZ Top and Warner Bros. conspired to create the "Six Pack" in 1987, cramming six early Top albums into a three-disc package, fans were intensely disappointed. Longtime ZZ Top aficionados had grown weary of the group's current synth-driven material and longed to hear the band's early work in remastered CD quality. And they got it ... sort of. Instead of just remastering all those records, a decision was made to also remix the tracks, resulting in compressed digital dumps that were sonically indistinguishable from "Eliminator"-era tripe and those excellent early Top albums -- "El Loco", "Fandango!" -- have yet to be reissued properly with a respectful audiophile upgrade. "Chrome, Smoke & BBQ" certainly takes care of many sound quality issues, bringing nearly 50 pre-"Eliminator" tracks in line with today's standards. And those tracks -- providing the majority of the songs on this four-disc box -- truly paint a picture of one of the best boogie-rock bands of the '70s. Yet, in its effort to paint the complete picture of ZZ Top, this set ultimately ends up being a drag. In words, it's the other 30 songs here that should make you hesitate before buying. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of "Eliminator" is present, which is cool, considering how huge that album was in '83. But post-"Eliminator" material here goes far beyond radio hits like "Sleeping Bag" and way too deep into "Recycler" and "Afterburner" territory. Thankfully, there's nothing from ZZ's tenure with RCA Records, but when four dance remixes are presented as the bulk of the "rarities, " suffice it to say that you can leave much of the second half of this box set alone. (OK, there are also some tracks from Billy Gibbons' legendary, pre-ZZ Top psych-rock band, The Moving Sidewalks, as well as a couple of oddities like a radio ad for "Degüello". But really, does anyone need to hear the 12-inch remix of "Velcro Fly" ever again?) It almost makes you wish they would have just properly remastered the "Six Pack" and left it at that.

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