REVIEW: Tesla – Mechanical Resonance (1986)

Welcome to Tesla Day!

Deke over at Arena Rock is reviewing Tesla’s difficult fourth album Psychotic Supper, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about it. Meanwhile, we’ve got Tesla’s debut Mechanical Resonance right here at mikeladano dot com! Hope you dig both.

Scan_20150918TESLA – Mechanical Resonance (1986 Geffen)

Tesla came out of the gates with everything in its right place:  a good label (Geffen), great producers (Thompson & Barbiero) and the best management you could ask for (Q Prime).  The band were and are all top drawer musicians, and they had a batch of killer rootsy hard rock ready to record.  Ready, set, go!

Tesla have never done anything wimpy.  Whatever they do, they inject muscle into, even the ballads.  “EZ Come EZ Go”, the opening salvo, is surprisingly tough for the era.  Starting dark and ominous, it only takes a verse before it turns to scorch mode.  Singer Jeff “JK” Keith proved his versatility immediately on this track.  From whimpering tones to belting at the top of the lungs, JK did it with rasp and incredible lung power.  Backing him are the underrated guitar duo of Frankie Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, a six-string tag team to rival the big boys.

“Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with Van Halen-esque blitzing, except with two guitarists instead of one, fretboards ablaze.  It takes almost a minute for the song itself to ignite!  “I’m a mean machine, I’m the kind you don’t wanna meet,” warns Jeff, but I don’t believe him.  Tesla were known as one of the “nice guy” bands of rock, in contrast to bad boys like Motley Crue.  Troy Luccketta is a drummer with a recognizable style.  You can hear it in the way he rides the cymbals.  On bass, the bearded Brian Wheat, the backbone of the group.   There is no let up, only a full-on rock assault.

The album generated quite a few single/videos, and “Gettin’ Better” was an easy selection.  The mellow, ballady (but soulful) opening is just a feint.  This turns into a good time rocker in no time.  A message of positivity and perseverance is good on the ears, and it’s nice to hear a kick-ass but optimistic rock song that isn’t sung by Jon Bon Jovi.  It gets heavier from here.  “2 Late 4 Love” is not a Def Leppard song, nor Prince.  It is however pure metal.  Early Tesla seemed to be a bit more metallic in nature.  With a Motley chug and a Dokken vibe, it’s not really representative of where Tesla was headed, but it’s good enough.  “Rock Me To the Top” occupies a similar chug with high quality results.  Finally, ending the first side is “We’re No Good Together” which actually has some soft, Cars-like synth in the background.  This slow, bluesy number sure picks up at the ending.  Jeff Keith really turned in an excellent lead vocal, especially for the slow, soulful parts.  What a singer!

“Modern Day Cowboy” is one of Tesla’s trademark tunes today.  There’s that cowboy motif, so popular in the 80’s that you’d think we all rode steel horses.  Although it is now a Tesla classic, I actually don’t think it’s one of the better tunes on the album.  It’s a fine, serviceable hard rocker, with edge, drama, acoustics and the works thrown in, but it doesn’t have the melodic sensibilities that most of the album has.  The guitars sure do smoke.

Nothing wrong with a little piano in a rock ballad, is there?  “Changes” is a great, heavy ballad with loads of guitars and tasteful keys too.  I don’t even think I should be calling this a ballad.  It burns rubber like there’s no tomorrow when it’s time for it.

Since this time, Tesla have become known for performing some amazing covers, both hits and obscure.  “Little Suzi” is the first, and I’d never heard of the band Ph.D. of whom this is a cover.  Even if I had, Tesla’s version of the song is diametrically opposed to the dramatic synthpop original, which was titled “Little Suzi’s on the Up”.  Tesla do it as a folksy, bonfire acoustic/electric rocker complete with a pretty acoustic intro.   It is instantly likeable.  Bon Jovi once said “the way to tell if a song is good is to see if it works acoustically.”  If that is true, then Tesla have proven this of “Little Suzi”.

Similarly upbeat and irresistible is “Love Me”, featuring a juicy talkbox solo by Tommy Skeoch.  The song has a nice big riff and plenty of hooks to go around.  Even though that’s 10 songs and plenty enough for an album, it ain’t over next.  “Cover Queen” is a smoky rocker with ammunition to spare, but it is “Before My Eyes” that is the pièce de résistance. It’s risky to close an album with a slow, trippy long bomber (5:31, longest on the album). “Before My Eyes” is not an instant love, but over time it grows and grows. The psychedelic voices at the end can be heard to be saying “Is it a dream?” over and over, very trippy indeed!

What a debut, and as incredible as it is, some would say that the follow-up The Great Radio Controversy was even better.

4.5/5 stars

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57 comments

  1. Nice one Mike, great album and fantastic read much appreciated!

    Psychotic Supper and now this review, hope you find the time to get their Great Radio Controversy sorted as well (unless I missed it!?) :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done. Such a killer band that really should have been much bigger. For a minute there, I thought that these guys were headed for Aerosmith-type legendary status. I’m one that would say that Radio Controversy is a step up, but Mechanical is a fantastic debut. You’re right about the guitar teamwork being severely underrated.

    When the Black Crowes came onto the scene, I remember hearing the singles on the radio and thinking they were new Tesla tunes. Weird to think about that now…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tesla is still, after all of these years, one of my very favorite bands. Your review is great, Mike, and thank you for including the original version of “Little Suze”—I knew it was a cover, but had no idea the original was available. Today is the first I’ve heard it, and I’ve been listening to Tesla for well over 20 years.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Sloan too. Man, I need Uncle Meat to do a list now. I bet I like 90% of what he hates.

          I’ve got some Monster Truck and Sloan albums for upcoming reviews, so Uncle Meat can be forewarned.

          Like

        2. I like the Stones just fine…I’ve heard every album. I find their status to be a bit surprising. Their early albums were all covers and I haven’t got into a studio album of theirs since…Emotional Rescue maybe?

          I consider the Stones to be around the same level as an Aerosmith kinda band, but definitely not the greatest band of all time. Queen, possibly, but not the Stones.

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        3. I think doing a post about the bands we dislike is so much easier than narrowing down the top 15 we do like.

          How about another 15 on October 15th.

          The top 15 bands/albums we hate that everyone else loves.

          I remember reading some hatred for Pet Sounds out there. Also, The Stones thing was surprising, but that may happen a lot that day.

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  4. Hi Mike, I hadn’t heard much Tesla but your review is appealing. The Little Suzi clip didn’t play for me for some reason so I listened to Love Song online. The sound seemed familiar and I’m thinking Skid Row…I especially like the vocals here.
    Also looking forward to Deke’s review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love Song is an incredible tune…that’s off the second album and I think it’s fantastic. Not “wimpy” either even for a ballad. I don’t know if I’d go Skid Row on the vocals but it’s in that ballpark.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s just the first album though — they got more rootsy as time went on! Their third album is one of the very first “unplugged albums”, ever — except it had nothing to do with MTV. But the MTV trend couldn’t have happened without Tesla’s huge hit album Five Man Acoustical Jam. I still hear the song “Signs” every day on the radio.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Real interesting Mike, they were never particularly touted over here and I only bought this LP in 2013 after a chat on JHubner’s blog. had no idea that ‘Little Suzi’ was a cover either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew it was, because the writing credits were not names I knew. But then I had to google the names for this review to be complete in my eyes, and that’s what led me to the original — and not a bad song. Simon Phillips was their fucking drummer!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Mike for this review! I was saying at Deke’s, I had a buddy in high school who loved this band and so I will have heard all of these songs at some point or other but I wouldn’t necessarily know them by name. Still, between you and Deke you’re making me think i need to get further into this band. I owned the Acoustical Jam album long ago (and loved it), but it’s been a long while and I’ve never had any of the studio records.

    I’ll hand in my Rawk card at the door on my way out… ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review Mikey! This was fun and it’s always fun to pull the wool over Aaron now and than! Hahaha….great call on Changes! Man that song was awesome and still is….

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  8. My sister reviewed this album for her college newspaper. She said that Tesla were a totally corporate created band. There was a song on the album to relate to all listeners whether they be metalheads, Rush fans, thrash fans or 14 year old girls. I’ve always given it a miss on account of that. Like with Diver Down, I’ll have a listen for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. While I respect Uncle Meat, he does have a habit of judging albums he has not heard. Tesla and Warrant are prime examples. He told me that my Warrant review should be 1/5 stars without hearing the album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find the biggest surprises in listening to music are when you assume a band or album is shit, and then it turns out to be awesome.
      I find this often happens when I see a band live. Often the hit in the radio that I don’t like is the worst song. The lesser knowns and b sides are often the best.
      I will still continue to assume that some bands/albums are shit, but will never post about it until I give it at least 1 spin.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I think seeing a band live … in what was known as their “heyday” … allows me to have an opinion on said band. Hence my “warranted” opinion .. that Warrant sucks .. Oh and i have ears too … Their garbage music and hairspray offends me and I am proud of that

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  10. What a brilliant band this is. I have seen them live a couple of times at Sweden Rock and they have been amazing both times. This album is a killer, but so are all their albums.
    Tesla should have been much bigger judging by the quality of their music.
    Great review, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You tell ’em Jon. I can’t believe Uncle Meat would make such a blanket statement about Tesla without even wanting to hear more. The second album is incredible…and Bust A Nut is very underrated.

      Like

  11. This album was one of the best of the last few years of the 80s! There are a couple songs I actually like better on the 2nd album(not the radio hits)but to me this was there best album! They were also the antithesis of the crappy hairband crap that was embarrassingly going on at the time…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were so many awesome bands going in the 80’s and early 90’s. Then Shitvana came along and music stopped being fun.
      I really don’t know what a hair band is. Bands with hair?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Jon’s got a point though. You don’t listen to the hair any more than you listen to Kiss’ makeup. Queensryche had bigger hair than this picture of Poison, but NOBODY calls Queensryche “Hair Metal”. In fact you know who had some of the biggest hair in rock? PANTERA!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. True but there is a definite line between musical integrity and wanting to be famous in music. We all place that line somewhere.

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