ZZ Top – La Futura (2012)

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Remember how ZZ Top — a lip-smacking amalgam of blues, hard rock and Texas-born don’t-give-a-damn — sounded before they cloaked themselves in an MTV-approved sheen of synthesizers? It’s like that again.

From the white-trash groove of “Heartache in Blue” to pedal-mashing boogie of “Lose Lose You,” from the slow-motion heavy-metal menace of “It’s Too Easy” to the riff and roar of “Big Shiny Nine,” ZZ Top’s forthcoming La Futura has the feel of vintage stuff, made new.

The forthcoming, long-awaited Rick Rubin-helmed project, due September 11, 2012 from American Recordings, is a nearly complete return to form for Billy Gibbons and Co. — the kind of record that sounds like a barroom brawl between a grease-popping guitar, an ass-whipping bass and a skull-splitting drum kit.

It’s hard, at times, to believe all of the glorious racket on La Futura is coming from only three dudes. That too, of course, is just like old times.

How better to begin than with the album’s gloriously debauched lead single “I Gotsta Get Paid,” with its rooster tail guitar signature and soar mash-swilling vocal? This track could have come from no other band — right down to Gibbons’ stuttering flourish just before his solo, something that draws a straight line back to the slinky appeal of “Cheap Sunglasses.”

And there is at least one terrific surprise: “Over You,” this raw and moving ballad. As Gibbons’ voice creaks with very real emotion, the track builds toward a shambling, Otis Redding-informed sensuality — easily the most honest moment in memory for this band.

“Gotsta” and “Only You” are among the four La Futura tracks that appeared on an earlier-released four-song EP, along with “Chartreuse” and “Consumption.” The former recalls the days of randy (hell, nasty) little numbers like “Pearl Necklace,” “Legs” and “Tube Snake Boogie” as Gibbons sings in a pervy snarl: “That color just turns me loose … When you get the blues, baby, I got the juice.” (Listen closely at the beginning, and you might hear a whisper of “La Grange” there, too.)

“Consumption,” meanwhile, doesn’t really aspire to anything more than referencing the band’s best gassed-up groovers. Similarly, “Fly High” and “Have A Little Mercy” feel even more by the numbers, like ZZ Top and Rubin took their back-to-basics approach all the way into the safety of nostalgia.

Ultimately, though, there’s no denying the sense that La Futura has reclaimed the band’s core sensibility — a move first hinted at with last year’s release of the volcanic 1980 concert document Live in Germany. With some of the best songs since those glory days, and Rubin’s smartly uncluttered production, ZZ Top has reanimated the unhinged, sleazy atmosphere that once made them such a dangerous delight.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on ZZ Top. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

ON SECOND THOUGHT: ZZ TOP – TEXICALI (2012): Now this is more like it. When we got our first taste of new ZZ Top music a few months back with “Flying High,” I was seriously disappointed. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t even close to what I was hoping for from the pairing of Top and Rick Rubin. Then came the Jeremiah Weed spot featuring “Gotsta Get Paid,” and my interest level immediately jumped back up. After watching the commercial a couple of times, I couldn’t get the “25 lighters on my dresser, yessir” refrain out of my head and searched in vain for a full version of the song to hear, right up until the four-song EP Texicali dropped. This is what I’m talking about. Texicali is a grungy, blues-drenched, rock ‘n’ roll, boogie-woogie treat for ZZ Top fans.

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: ZZ TOP’S BILL GIBBONS, “OH WELL” (2012): Gibbons is joined by Blake Mills and Matt Sweeney for a blistering take on the Peter Green-era 1969 track “Oh Well,” ramping it up from this distorted, shivering portent into a raw, dangerous stomp. It’s an early highlight in what promises to be a fascinating 17-track tribute compilation called Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac from a group as diverse as its subject. Besides Gibbon’s update of “Oh Well,” there’s also Marianne Faithfull (“Angel”), Lykke Li (“Silver Springs”), the Crystal Ark (“Tusk”), the New Pornographers (“Think About Me”), the Kills (“Dreams”), Washed Out (“Straight Back”) and Tame Impala (“That’s All For Everyone”) offering standout takes on tracks from Rumours, Tusk, and Mirage — the classic trio of Buckingham-Nicks dominated recordings.

ZZ TOP – MESCALERO (2003): “Tush” is one of those tunes that always made us reach for the volume knob. It just couldn’t be turned up too loud. The distorted blues/rock guitar, the not quite over-the-top vocals and the blistering lead guitar. Then, shortly after the dawn of MTV, somethin’ funny happened. ZZ Top just exploded. That little ‘ole band from Texas put out Eliminator, made a few videos and went on to be considered one of MTV’s pioneering artists. I basically lost track of the bearded ones, sadly figuring that they were done. As much as I try to ride it out with my old favorites, this time it seemed like that well had run dry. But then, in 2003, I saw a review for a new ZZ Top album. Steeling myself for the usual “they’re all washed up” screed, I popped open the review link to discover that, hey, Mikey liked it! So, I bought myself ZZ Top’s Mescalero. Now this is the real thing. Huge, distorted rhythm guitar, grizzled bluesy vocals, in-the-pocket drumming and snarling guitar leads.

FORGOTTEN SERIES: MOVING SIDEWALKS FEATURING ZZ TOP’S BILLY GIBBONS – FLASH (1969): Best remembered as the band that featured guitarist Billy Gibbons, who eventually reaped universal fame with ZZ Top, the Moving Sidewalks were actually a very popular local act hailing from Houston, Texas. A hot live attraction, they produced a few singles and a full-length album during their stint. Originally released on the Tantara label in 1969, Flash (reissued by Akarma Records in 2000) provides ample servings of heavy psychedelic-blues rock cuisine. The Moving Sidewalks were especially enamored with Jimi Hendrix, and such a fixation religiously invades their material. Soulful vocals, dazzling riffs, bursts of distorted feedback and patches of cosmic impressions shamelessly ape the lauded performer. The admiration was mutual, however, as Jimi publicly praised Billy, calling him his favorite new guitar player, after catching a Moving Sidewalks show.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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