ZZ Top, “La Futura” (Universal Republic)
With its distortion-heavy slabs of gritty blues-rock and title en espanol, ZZ Top’s first full-length album in nearly a decade could easily fit in the band’s catalog somewhere pre-1983, before “Eliminator” boldly embraced synthesizers and made the “little ol’ band from Texas” unlikely MTV personalities.
To help evoke their less-polished ‘70s heyday for “La Futura,” the band enlisted superproducer Rick Rubin, who has an unparalleled reputation for reorienting artists (Johnny Cash, Metallica) who have lost their way a bit. ZZ Top’s last several albums were unfocused, with the band striking aimlessly between the rough-hewn riffs that broke them beyond the Lone Star State and the high-gloss production that shot them to stardom.
“La Futura” is a back-to-basics set of swaggering rock jams (“Chartreuse,” “Big Shiny Nine”) and barroom blues shuffles (“Heartache in Blue”) delivered as always with plenty of the Texans’ trademark humor and double entendre.
Like all worthy ZZ Top records, it’s Billy Gibbons’ signature guitar sound that bolsters “La Futura” (rumor has it he uses a peso as a pick) and makes it a welcome return to form.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: The highlight of the album is the opener: a cover — more like a complete overhaul — of “25 Lighters,” an underground hit by Houston hip-hop producer DJ DMD. The song is a showcase for Gibbons’ sultry growl (no, he doesn’t rap) and features a bodacious guitar tone that crackles from the speakers. Renamed “I Gotsta Get Paid,” it could be a recession-era sequel to the band’s 1972 single, “Just Got Paid.”