After what seems like decades of enticing progress reports from the recording studio, ZZ Top's first new album in eight years, 'La Futura,' has arrived.

The flood of "return to glory" talk may run counter to the proper enjoyment of this record, which after all that time and effort somewhat surprisingly reveals itself as more of a low-key and charming affair.

'La Futura' kicks off with its most inventive track, 'I Gotsta Get Paid,' a buzzing and clattering cover of a rap song whose deliberate tempo brings to mind the band's latter-day classic 'Pincushion.'

From there it's a trip back into 'Fandango!' territory for the shuffling and extremely catchy 'Chartreuse.' It's at this point we should mention that everything sounds right for a ZZ Top record. The guitars are fuzzy and stinging, the rhythm section sounds loose and freed from digital shackles, and Billy Gibbons' voice wears the years very well.

Without a pause, everything gets boiled down to an even thicker, nastier stew on 'Consumption.' Frank Beard hammers away relentlessly on the cymbals as Gibbons delivers short, spitting chords and producer Rick Rubin engages in some creative, dynamics-enhancing cutting and pasting we'd love to see duplicated live.

The mood then shifts rather dramatically for the lovely ballad 'Over You,' which finds Gibbons crooning in a most vulnerable and straightforward manner. It would make perfect sense if the Stax/Volt horn section turned up and delivered a big dramatic swell at the end of a verse on this track, but it's just peachy without them.

And with that, the album's palette and reach is pretty much established, with more relaxed, familiar grooves such as 'I Don't Wanna Lose, Lose You' dominating the second half. 'Heartache in Blue' features some lovely harmonica work from James Harman, while 'Flying High' strays a bit too far from Texas in favor of sunny and somewhat stilted California pop-rock.

The dark, glacially-paced 'It's Too Easy Manana' stands out here, striking a serious and impressively menacing tone. The song's sudden uptempo coda also points out what's missing on some of the record -- the surprise and weirdness that elevates the band's best work into something truly magical. Still, 'La Futura' serves as an entertaining visit from old friends, and never overstays its welcome.


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