What's tough for me about reviewing a new ZZ Top record is comparing it to the classic sound of their 70's records. I'm talking Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, etc... but don't get me wrong. I totally respect ZZ Top, and other classic rock era artists for heading in new musical directions. As musicians, it would be stifling, I think, to continue producing the same sound over and over. Most good musicians ( ZZ Top being in that category) are constantly influenced by an eclectic array of music. For instance: Billy Gibbons playing is certainly rooted in Blues Rock; but those roots certainly haven't kept him from exploring new territory. All of this garners my utmost respect, but there are some mixed feelings on behalf of long time fans.
One thing that doesn't help, is the press that's preceded several ZZ Top releases over the years. I can't count the number of times i've heard the following: "If you like "Tres Hombres", you are really going to like their upcoming release". The truth is: ZZ Top hasn't released anything that sounds like their 70's stuff since, "well", the 70's. I'm sure the advance press is designed to pump up record buyers, but if it's not true, why shortchange the fans ? They have certainly marketed "La Futura" as a nod to the past; and while there may be a hint of it here & there, it's buried in guitar sounds not reminiscent of those days. If Billy Gibbons enjoys charting new territory in sound & technique, I say go for it. Who am I to tell Billy Gibbons ( a protege of Jimi Hendrix) what to do; but I know the fans would enjoy a return to form.
So, here's the skinny: I like the new record. It's the best they've done in a while. Much of the stuff they've released since "Recycler" has been disappointing, though I did enjoy "Rhythmeen". "La Futura" gets them back on course a bit. The record contains pleasurable echos from the past, though I wouldn't exactly call it a return to form. You can purchase a special edition album version which includes 2 bonus tracks that won't be on the regular release. What's strange about the bonus tracks is that both (in my opinion) are more reminiscent what a 70's ZZ Top fan might appreciate. Go figure? A better move might have been placing those tracks on the regular release. At least that way, fans who read press comparisons to "Tres Hombres" wouldn't have been disappointed.