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.
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.