Pretty much smack inbetween the career high-water mark that was Tres Hombres, and the ultra-commercial, MTV-courting, mega-seller, Eliminator, ZZ Top’s Deguello is something of a stand-alone for the band. Whereas all their earlier albums albums were re-released on CD in the latter-half of the 80s slathered in drum machines, and their next album, El Loco, was a dry-run for globe-gobbling Eliminator, Deguello was for a long time the only prime-period ZZ Top album you could buy where the percussion wasn’t utterly dominated by drum machines. Or doormat-sized beards.
What Deguello is dominated by is cover versions, which are studded liberally throughout the album. The most instantly impressive of these is their version of Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You”, which kicks off the album, before classic ZZ Top service is delivered with “She Loves My Automobile”, which as the title suggests, pays homage to the band’s twin obsessions of girls and cars, and in this case, a girl obsessed with a car, which I guess is this band’s ideal subject matter.
Next track, “I’m Bad, I’m Nation Wide”, is disappointingly not about Britain’s biggest Building Society, but it is one of Deguello’s best known numbers. There seems to be no obvious reason for this, as it’s a solid song, but it’s no more catchy or commercial than anything else on here. It is immeadiately over-shadowed by the slow-burning blues rock of “Fool for Your Stockings”, which is certainly not the most politically correct song, but it does feature a couple of ice-cool guitar solos by Billy Gibbons.
Then it all falls to pieces with “Manic Mechanic”, which is one of the band’s worst songs by some considerably margin. It’s a full-on ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ moment, where you can only put it down to the band getting over-excited as they messed about with new production methods and studio trickery. As bad as ZZ Top’s later obsession with 80s prodiuction methods would get, at least it never got as bad as “Manic Mechanic” again.
Slips in quality control such as this aside, Deguello is an enjoyable straight-up rock and roll album. It also must have sounded oddly refreshing at a time when disco and punk held sway and ZZ-Top’s stadium rocking contemporaries were mired in AOR hell.
The second half of Deguello side-steps any notion of trying to be anything other than a good time rock and roll album. From “Dust my Broom”, to the rightly celebrated “Cheap Sunglasses”, where production techniques are again faffed-around with, but this time not to the detriment of the song. “Cheap Sunglasses” has always been a great ZZ Top song on an overlooked ZZ Top album. That’s always been Deguello’s fate though. It’s a great rock and roll album, but it’s not one that has been a critic’s favourite, so it’s always been unfairly overlooked. As you listen to closing mid-paced rocker “Esther be the One”, you wonder how this tight and economical rock album by one of America’s premier rock bands hasn’t enjoyed more plaudits over the years. It comes in, does what it does with the minimum of fuss despite the odd lapse of focus and then calls it a night before it outstays it’s welcome.
If you like ZZ Top, but Deguello has so far passed you by, it’s well worth investigation. If you’re image of ZZ Top is of furry-gutar-wielding, drum-machine obsessed, MTV sell-outs, this album could very well change your mind.