Over the years, ZZ Top has stayed contemporary: dabbling in new wave, flirting with grunge and techno, making goofy music videos, even using a drum machine. But the band has never strayed too far from its classic amalgam of electric blues, garage rock and greasy grooves. On their new album, La Futura, the members sound like their old selves.
Part of ZZ Top's return to form is the handiwork of Rick Rubin, the eccentric producer and music visionary. Rubin's stripped-down approach in the studio worked well with the band, highlighting the economy that makes a great rock trio so appealing. Rubin has also enjoyed success at bringing artists together with unlikely material, which he does with the late-'90s hip-hop tune that ZZ Top transforms into a searing anthem all its own in "Gotsta Get Paid."
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons is a guitar hero, a master of tone and technique with impeccable taste in musical equipment. All that remarkable string-bending dances on the groove of one of rock's finest rhythm sections in bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard.
So how do musicians who've been perfecting their craft for decades shepherd electric blues well into the 21st century? Ironically, they look back. ZZ Top's new album is loaded with winks to its old catalog — like "Flyin' High," which name-drops the band's 1979 song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." These fleeting moments ought to jog the memories of fans about how great this band has always been. It's also a testament to the timelessness of this music.