took more than a little critical heat back in the '80s when they started adapting their music to the times, adding electronic instruments to their traditional guitar-bass-drums power trio configuration and producing very MTV-friendly music videos. Perhaps they were offering more than a passing nod to the commercial side of making music, but you can make a good case that their willingness and ability to adapt and adjust contributed in no small way to their still being active after 43 years, and still entertaining a large and loyal fan base.
Those who poo-pooed ZZT's '80s sound, and were uncomfortable with the seeming lack of direction in their most recent two or three albums, will be happy to learn that La Futura
sounds very much like the band's pre-MTV, play it loud, have some fun sound of the '70s.
The future is the past
Guitarist-vocalist Billy Gibbons
addressed the issue in a news release announcing the album's release. "We thought long and hard about what this album should be," Gibbons said. "We wanted to recall the directness of our early stuff but not turn our backs on contemporary technology. The result of this melding of the past and the present is, of course, La Futura
The album got a focus group test of sorts back in June when the first four tracks were released in an iTunes-only package. Reviews and sales were good, giving Gibbons and Co. (drummer Frank Beard
and bassist Dusty Hill
) reason to be optimistic about the fate of the album. La Futura
was produced by Rick Rubin who, in addition to being one of the chieftains at Columbia Records, has made something of a cottage industry out of working with veteran artists (you might recognize some of them: AC/DC
, Tom Petty
, Mick Jagger
, Black Sabbath
) and renewing their enthusiasm for their own work.
One of Rubin's techniques is to encourage artists to think outside their genre, and cover songs that you wouldn't expect them to cover. The opening track, "I Gotsta Get Paid" is a prime example of that technique in action. It is a cover of (are you sitting down?) a 1999 rap song, titled "25 Lighters" by DJ DMD featuring Lil' Keke & Fat Pat. Knowing that, when you listen to ZZ's treatment, you can almost see them elbowing you and giving you a wink to let you know they're really having fun.
Back to basics
Frazer Harrison / Getty Imasges
"Big Shiny Nine" and "Chartreuse" (which will remind you of "Tush") have ZZT's trademark hard rock stamp. "Heartache in Blue" could be a honky-tonk blues standard. I'm not a great fan of ballads as a rule, but Gibbons is very convincing on "Over You."
Speaking of Mr. Gibbons, his voice has always sounded like he could be anywhere from 20 to 70 years old. That is still the case as he prepares to celebrate his 62nd birthday in December. He can still make it rough and raspy or smooth as silk, seemingly effortlessly.
Aside from the song choices and musical arrangements, there's something else about La Futura
that takes you back to the "good ol' days" of ZZT's '70s sound. They sound like they're genuinely enjoying themselves. And that, I believe, is what has been missing from their last few albums. They're having fun again!
La Futura Track List
1. "I Gotsta Get Paid"
4. "Over You"
5. "Heartache in Blue"
6. "I Don't Wanna Lose, Lose, You"
7. "Flyin' High"
8. "It's Too Easy Mañana"
9. "Big Shiny Nine"
10. "Have a Little Mercy" Release date: September 11, 2012 - American Recordings
Available on CD, LP, MP3