A Latin-tinged misfire from flame-maned ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons is, of course, first and foremost famed for his 40-plus-year tenure as frontman of seminal blues rockers ZZ Top, a close second perhaps for his luxuriant, flame-colored beard, and probably a distant third as compadre-cum-accomplice of resurrected Texas psych-god Roky Erickson. What he is unlikely to be remembered for is his first official solo album, Perfectamundo.
The album is not actually “solo”, as Gibbons co-bills his backing band the BFG’s (the mind beggars to imagine what that could possibly stand for), but the BFG’s seem no better equipped to tackle this album’s Latin rhythms than Gibbons himself (Gibbons himself studied under famed jazz luminary Tito Puente in his pre-stardom youth).
Kicking off with a representationally limp version of Slim Harpo’s torrid barnburner “Got Love If You Want It”, Gibbons leans hard on his by-the-numbers rhythm section right out of the gate, his soloing occasionally cutting clean and bright through the embryonic beats (which feel as much like a Casio factory preset than a living, feeling group of in-the-pocket human beings), but his muted, processed vocals only add to the sense of digital alienation.
Not everything is equally forgettable: “Pickin’ Up Chicks on Dowling Street” has a swinging New Orleans vibe that successfully conveys the effortless party atmosphere that the rest of Perfectamundo strives for but only intermittently achieves. “Piedras Negras” is undermined to a degree by Gibbons’ increasingly shot vocals, but at least it’s one of the few instances on the album where the rhythm section isn’t collapsing under its own weight. In a value proposition such as the one presented by Perfectamundo, sometimes it’s enough when the band members manage just to stay out of each other’s way. “Q’Vo” actually closes out the album on a high note by eschewing vocals altogether and sticking to a minimal, organ-led funk with subtle, unhurried percussion, a blend that would have served the rest of the album well.
However, songs like “You’re What’s Happenin’ Baby” and “Quiero Mas Dinero” -- the latter with its stilted take on reggeton-style rapping -- ensure bad trip flashbacks anytime superior tracks from this same album are replayed. Gibbons’ flaccid take on old chestnut “Baby Please Don’t Go” would have been just as unwelcome in 1985 as it is now, its slick, overproduced veneer resembling that year’s pop supergroup, Power Station, but whereas that ensemble had Robert Palmer’s charisma to carry Bernard Edwards’ try-hard, electro-sheen production (kinda, anyway), Gibbons’ weathered growl barely even holds its own.
Perfectamundo is essentially tepid blues rock (featuring many warmed over standards) with a Latin rhythm section slapped on for some longed for but unrequited funk credibility. It’s not like the album’s patron saint, Tito Puente, was the poster child for consistency either, but as homage you want to aim for the high points, not the part of your idol’s career where he’s maybe phoning it in a bit. Perfectamundo unintentionally doubles down on the slight by assuming that Puente might have harbored the desire to lead a cookie cutter blues rock act in the first place. Coming off a good-if-not-stellar album in ZZ Top’s 2012 effort, La Futura, Billy Gibbons once again finds himself in familiar territory: back at the drawing board.