ZZ Top have long been a prime candidate for a Rick Rubin-led comeback, having long ago settled into an insular digital rut that paid back increasingly small dividends. La Futura is that long-awaited ZZ Top record, their first full-length in nearly a decade (the last was 2003's Mescalero) and, more remarkably, their first-ever album to bear a production credit by somebody who is neither Billy Gibbons nor longtime manager Bill Ham, who left the organization in 2006. Gibbons sits at the mixing board with Rubin and together they revive the Top's dirty '70s boogie, never quite forgetting the coolly propulsive stylized rock of Eliminator. Certainly, La Futura is the best album from ZZ Top since that '80s landmark but it flips Eliminator on its head, using synthesized elements as accents, not as a skeleton. Rubin returns real drums to ZZ Top but doesn't entirely strip away drum machines, giving La Futura just enough of a futuristic shimmer to live up to its name, just enough of the present to make it feel of the moment. And there's no mistaking that this lil' ol' band from Texas is indeed old -- and its age is part of the pleasure of La Futura. ZZ Top have the weathered interplay of vets who've been doing this for almost their entire lives and Billy Gibbons' gravelly growl has now withered into a gnarly, strangled croak, almost primal in its ugliness. Far from hiding his ragged singing, Gibbons and Rubin have it battle the thick blasts of fuzz guitars throughout the whole of the album, noise that even splatters the slow 12-bar form of "Heartache in Blue." It's a thick, tactile sound that's invigorating -- the smack of Frank Beard's snare is infectious -- and that alone would make La Futura a success, but what makes it a triumph is the coolly efficient songwriting. ZZ Top cleverly reference past glories without succumbing to recycling: "I Gotsta Get Paid" could have wallowed in the Rio Grande Mud, "Chartreuse" boogies as relentlessly as "Tush," "Have a Little Mercy" winks at "Waitin' for the Bus," and they revive the arena rock of the '80s with "Flyin' High." What makes these songs really cook is how ZZ Top are celebrating everything that they've taken for granted for decades -- they're embracing the sleazy boogie, the dirty jokes, the locomotive riffs, the saturated blues, the persistent lecherous leer, and by doing so they finally sound like themselves again.
La Futura Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine