For their first album in nine years, ZZ Top recruited Rick Rubin, the maverick producer whose stripped down sound and penchant for rediscovery helped rejuvenate the careers of Johnny Cash, Metallica, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The results haven’t always been universally lauded, but at the very least, Rubin displayed an intrinsic understanding of each artist’s fundamental ethos - alongside a knowledge of what their loyal fanbase expects to hear.
In ZZ Top, Rubin appears to have met the ideal candidate for his back to basic career reset. The instantly recognizable trio struggled to reconcile their wayward creative instincts during the 90s and early 2000s, as pedestrian blues merged with horrible effects, transient production techniques, and unwelcome synths. 1999’s XXX was an unmitigated disaster and by 2004 the band had all but given up on the recording studio. Thankfully, with Rubin’s help, ZZ Top’s 2012 return is a minor triumph.
The three-chord boogie is back, as each track, and each sliding solo, swelters beneath a merciless sun. La Futura has a wonderfully seedy and strained mood. The band are smooth, but in an insidious fashion; like syrup slowly dripping from a rusty pump at an abandoned gas station in the Arizona desert. The whole record gruffly purrs. Even at their most soulful and melodious (“Heartache In Blue”) Gibbons’ weathered croon conveys a tortured, and distinctly masculine, sense of understatement. The sound is so thick and caustic that at times La Futura feels more like a multi-layered growl than a musical composition.
The cheekiness that lies at the heart of ZZ Top, ever since their career defining (and restricting) run of classic mid-80s music videos, is still intact, but well hidden. The brilliant “Gosta Get Paid” is a crafty cover of “25 Lighters” by DJ DMD (a southern Hip Hop staple), but it couldn’t sound any more earthy or organic. There is no wink and nod, just a fat guitar line and a seductively frayed arrangement. In fact, the more obvious ZZ Top become, the worse the results. The talk of big cabooses (“Chartreuse”) and gleaming pistols (“Big Shiny Nine”) over metronomic rhythms don’t stand up to extended exposure, while the cataclysmic lament “It’s Too Easy Manana”, only grows in stature.
The 1990s had left ZZ Top revered, ridiculed, and straightjacketed by a mid-career revival that never truly represented the band’s best efforts. La Futura redresses the imbalance, moving ZZ Top back to a more hearty and satisfying sound without removing the self-satirical element that helps ZZ Top stand out from the blues-boogie crowd.
Buy If: You want to hear ZZ Top doing what they do best, and not what everyone else expects them to do.
Skip If:You were hoping for more streamlined 80s hits and less gruff bluesy pleads.
Best Track:“It’s Too Easy Manana”
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