Earl Slick: Zig Zag

Seth Limmer

Earl Slick

Zig Zag

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2003-12-09
UK Release Date: 2004-02-02

I think I've listened to my CD copy of Appetite for Destruction so many times that its grooves are wearing out; still, I've never once given thought to buying a copy of Slash's Snakepit. And, no matter how many times I listen to a Frank Zappa album and sit in amazement at the stunt guitar work of one Stevie Vai, it's never seemed the least bit important to listen to anything Vai recorded once he went solo. Furthermore, I've been victimized multiple times in my life by such lackluster albums as Ric Ocasek's Troublizing, Walter Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack, John Popper's Zygote, and just about everything Paul McCartney's released since 1970. With the rare and notable exceptions of the world's Neil Youngs and (to a far lesser extent) Robbie Robertsons, few individuals can themselves capture the magic they helped create with seminal bands like the Cars, Steely Dan, Blues Traveler, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, or the Band.

So why did I bother to pick up Zig Zag, the sixth solo album by David Bowie's long-yet-sometimes sideman Earl Slick? After repeated listens, I still can't say for sure. There's something to be said about a good-hearted curiosity that appreciated the great work Slick offered on the classic Young Americans and Station to Station albums, along with the ridiculous playing Slick demonstrated throughout the Thin White Duke touring years, captured so wonderfully on David Live. But that interest should have been tempered by the fact that it's been Slick -- and notably not far superior Bowie axmen Reeves Gabrels, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, or even Carlos Alomar -- who has been called in to play on the lackluster and vapid recent Bowie releases Heathen and Reality.

Speaking of Bowie, lackluster, and reality, they all set in too quickly on Zig Zag's third track, "Isn't It Evening" (ridiculously sub-titled "The Revolutionary"). Calling to mind the banal R&B stylings of Bowie's vapid Hours, the song crawls through a five minutes so tepid that even the featured guest's soaring tenor fails to elicit any excitement. The problems that plague this song in fact define the album entire: Slick just isn't a very good songwriter. It seems as if his true gift with six strings is to add to the context that others create; watching him try to build that same sonic soundscape all by his lonesome is just a little too much for him. (You could have figured this out all by yourself if you noticed that four of the albums ten tracks are instrumentals.) And it's not just that Slick's written mediocre material; the middling nature of the tunes seems to prevent him from reaching any worthwhile heights on the guitar as well.

Where Slick does deserve credit, however, is in his selection of artists to add their voices to his project. Aside from Bowie, the Cure's Robert Smith, Spacehog's Royston Langdon, the Motels' Martha Davis, and Def Leppard's Joe Elliot have all been harangued into joining the crazy sideways projections that are Zig Zag. And while it might be interesting to think of what would happen if all these folks met at a dinner party, I assure you that the conversation over fine food in the Slick family home would be far more interesting than this record. For, going in, we all knew that Earl has many good friends who are famous; what I unfortunately had to listen to 50 minutes of music to discover is that his little constellation of stars shares his inability to transcend music that really doesn't rise at all.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.