Review Summary: While the production may turn some away, ZZ Top’s fifteenth studio album is a surprisingly fun release with a lot of great songs going for it.
There’s a lot to say about ZZ Top’s fifteenth studio album. While the first four songs saw an early release on the iTunes-exclusive Texicali EP, this is the trio’s first full-length studio album since Mesacalero came out in 2003. It is also their first release of the American Recordings label and features the infamous Rick Rubin on production duties.
Seeing as how Rubin’s bare bones production style has become somewhat controversial in recent years (Blame Death Magnetic for that one), it isn’t too surprising to say that La Futura’s production can be rather hit and miss. The occasional clipping may get to some but the mixing is the biggest issue as the vocals are up front and center, an odd move when you consider ZZ Top’s guitar-oriented sound and singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons’ deteriorating croak. It does settle in when you get used to it but the approach may be a deal-breaker.
Vocals aside, the power trio is as tight as ever and shows a lot of experience rather than age. The guitar playing still provides the album’s strongest moments thanks to the signature riffs and bluesy solos at work. Drummer Frank Beard also manages to be pretty solid with a few holdovers from his drum machine days and bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill brings in some decent contributions.
While a majority of the songs on here are deeply rooted in the organic blues of ZZ Top’s 70s albums, there are two distinct halves to work with. The first four songs are predictably the easiest to get a feel for and could be seen as somewhat derivative. “I Gotsta Get Paid” starts things off on an old “Waiting On The Bus” mid-tempo groove, the one-two punch of “Chartreuse” and “Consumption” makes for a fun “Tush” rewrite, and “Over You” is a traditional blues ballad in the vein of “Hot Blue And Righteous” or “Sure Got Cold After The Rain Fell.”
The first half has its great moments but things really pick up for the album’s second half. “I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose You” and “Flying High” take things in a more upbeat direction with the latter sounding a bit like old school AC/DC. “It's Too Easy Mañana” is another strong ballad with an almost grungy feel that reminds one of the Stone Temple Pilots or King's X for some reason. I would also recommend looking into the Best Buy version of this album as it includes “Drive By Lover,” another upbeat number with Dusty providing his underrated wail in place of Gibbons.
While the production may turn some away, ZZ Top’s fifteenth studio album is a surprisingly fun release with a lot of great songs going for it. It’s hard to say if it was truly the nine-year wait but the 70s aesthetics and blues approach are enough to please any fan of the band. Hopefully they keep the momentum going and consider giving Dusty’s voice a little more time to shine…
“I Gotsta Get Paid”
“I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose You”
“It's Too Easy Mañana”
Originally published at http://suite101.com