CD Review: ZZ Top - La Futura

CD Review: ZZ Top - La Futura
Universal Republic
All Access Review: A-
ZZ Top - La Futura 2012
Almost as iconic as the long, scraggly beards they’ve steadfastly refused to shave off for anyone, ZZ Top’s “Eliminator Car” – a custom-built ’33 Ford Coupe with a powerful engine and beautiful contours – was not just a sweet ride. For three craggy, old guys from Texas, it represented the mother of all turning points. Though they seemed hopelessly out of step with the times in the synthetic, neon-lit early ‘80s, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard had no intention of retiring to Texas to sip Jeremiah Weed, play grab-ass with waitresses and reminisce about the good old days. Come hell or high water, they were going to reinvent themselves, using synthesizers and sequencers to update their crusty, greasy-spoon blues-rock for a new generation with the sleek, stylish and mean-as-all-get-out Eliminator.
And what better symbol of this transformation than an old-timey, Depression-era car pimped-out to attract loose women barely clothed in micro mini-skirts and stiletto heels. Unlike most mid-life crises, this one worked out splendidly for ZZ Top, as Eliminator – on the strength of skintight, nitro-burning singles “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “Got Me under Pressure” – roared up the charts and did doughnuts in Billboard’s parking lot. They'd done more than simply assimilate with pop music’s paradigm shift; they’d conquered it, all while not losing sight of what made them great in the first place. Soon after, however, ZZ Top would go too far, as the emphasis on electronic flash made Eliminator’s futuristic successor, Afterburner, seem as bloodless as PVC piping, and that car with the great lines and striking paint job suddenly seemed emblematic of the excesses that had eroded their true character.
Despite the title, ZZ Top’s latest, La Futura, does not march boldly into some brave new sonic world, where computers have taken over and humanity has to serve its robot overlords. This is the ZZ Top of 1973 and Tres Hombres, when Gibbons and company were pit masters of a smoky, sweaty form of slow-cooked blues that dripped fat and practically fell of the bone, even if La Futura was inspired by collaborations with Texas DJs and hip-hop artists. And La Futura is a delicious, artery-clogging feast, with most of the entrĂ©es being reworked versions of others’ recipes. That includes the gnarly, sleazy bump-and-grinds “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “Chartreuse” and “I Don’t Want to Lose, Lose, You” – three seedy songs you don’t want to inspect with a black light. Even nastier is “Consumption,” a lusty Gibbons-penned joint that has the hip-swaying, cowgirl swagger of a sassy Dallas stripper, who goes home at night and cries into her pillow while listening to the bittersweet and soulfully rendered, Stax-influenced ballad “Over You," La Futura's most disarming moment.
Aside from “Flyin’ High” taxing Gibbons' strained vocals to the breaking point and the track taking too much of a liking to John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” – by way of AC/DC, oddly enough – La Futura is classic ZZ Top from top to lovely bottom, where “Big Shiny Nine” and “Have a Little Mercy” evoke memories of “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” and “I Thank You,” respectively. His curmudgeonly, whisky-gargling vocals as mean and lascivious as ever, Gibbons’ guitar riffs growl with real junkyard dog menace, while his solos bite hard and have quite a bit of hair on them. As for Hill and Beard, they continue to massage the rhythmic, rumbling low-end to a very happy ending, indeed. Satisfying in almost every way, even if they could vary the pace a little or manage to make the proceedings not sound quite so labored, the organic and gritty La Futura could easily sit and have a drink with all the old ZZ Top master works … as long it doesn’t order a Zima.
-            Peter Lindblad

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