I love Tesla. Always have. However, it would take me all the way up until 2008 for me to see them live, when they played Sweden Rock Festival and put on a brilliant performance. Heaven. Tesla were never a big act in Europe so they didn’t make it over to Sweden until 1990 supporting the Scorpions and I missed that gig. Tesla were big in the States though, with their three first albums – Mechanical Resonance (1986), The Great Radio Controversy (1989) and Psychotic Supper (1991) all shipping platinum over there. Since they were lumped together with the rest of the arena-rockers back then, Grunge killed them off as well, making their very underrated 1994 album Bust A Nut a flop. And then they split, just like most of the popular Hard Rock bands that were around in the 80’s did. I always found Tesla different from the rest, though. Sure, they too had the power ballads here and there, but their music was rawer and raunchier and not as slickly produced.
But reunions were the thing of the 2000’s and that included Tesla too. 4/5 of the original members still play together today with Dave Rude replacing the drug-sick Tommy Skeoch shortly after their reunion album Into The Now had been released in 2004. That was an ok album but I had expected more – and more I got with the killer Forever More (2008) and its follow-up Simplicity (2014). Now it’s time for a new record, this time produced by Def Leppard’s Phil Collen. Def Leppard and Tesla go way back so the choice of producer isn’t very far-fetched at all. When Tesla needed a new track for their Mechanical Resonance Live (2016), Collen wrote and produced the song “Save That Goodness” which set the ball rolling. “Save That Goodness” was a damn good song but in all honesty, it sounded more like Jeff Keith singing a Def Leppard track than an actual Tesla-song. A warning sign, clearly, when it comes to the new album. I love Def Leppard but I want Tesla to sound like Tesla. Quality-wise, I’m not the least worried.
The album opens in an upbeat, rough and crunchy way with “You Won’t Take Me Alive”, a groovy rocker with a gritty punch and a distinct refrain, classic Tesla style. Not very much on this song tattle of a Def Leppard-like production. Killer opener! “Taste Like” is more poppy and holds a Melodic Rock riff over a mid paced rhythm. The song takes a nod at Stadium Rock but with a live-feel and the chorus is very catchy – clearly more driven towards an 80’s outlook than what we’re used to from this lot. It’s still a brilliant track, impossible to get out of my brain even if I wanted to. The first ballad shows up as early as track # 3. It’s called “We Can Rule The World” and it is a big and bombastic one. Full of strings and nods to power-balladry, it also holds a somewhat trippy, flower-powery vibe still with Phil Collen’s day-job band all over the track, like Beatles meets Leppard, if you will. It’s not a very Tesla sounding track but still an awesome ballad.
The title-track follows and it is a bouncy, pumping and quite heavy rocker that holds the classic Tesla sound albeit with an ounce of Def Leppard waved in. The chorus is where it’s most Leppard-esque with layers of vocals and a slick and instant catchiness. Very good. Ballad no. 2, “Love Is A Fire” is a big power ballad, Tesla style. A bluesy undertone marries fine with the big, catchy refrain where Collen’s Leppard-like production shine through some. In 1989, this tune would have shipped this album platinum – very good. “California Summer Song” sounds exactly like its title. It’s an upbeat pop-song based on acoustic guitar with a swinging, feel-good vibe, positive and happy. I think vacation days in the car with the top down, driving through sunny Cali without a care in the world. It really doesn’t sound like classic Tesla (or Leppard either for that matter) but it’s a contagious, catchy tune, impossible not to love.
With “Forever Loving You” it’s ballad-time again. This one’s slow, laid-back with acoustic guitars at the front, full of strings and a smooth melody-line. It’s very slick and even cheesy, more of a Pop ballad than a Rock dito and even though I don’t hate it, it’s too mainstream for my taste – and it doesn’t sound like Tesla one iota. After a few slow tunes I was hoping that “The Mission” would be a faster kind of rocker but it’s not. The tune holds a mid-tempo pace and its verses are on the softer side, on the border to a ballad. Thankfully, the chorus holds a heavier and more crunchy approach. It’s a good, catchy tune but after three slow ones, it’s a bit too mellow for comfort. “Tied To The Tracks”, however, takes a heavier and rawer turn, big on grooves and riffs that even borders to Metal. The gritty guitars and Keith’s rough and in-your-face definitely takes the song back to Tesla’s glory days. A killer!
“Afterlife” brings the tempo down to a mid-pace again but with a groove. It’s a pop-laden Melodic Rock tune, big on acoustic guitars and a straight-forward main-melody with a very poppy refrain. Again, there’s not much of classic Tesla here but it’s a damn good song. “I Want Everything” comes across as a sleazier Def Leppard with Jeff Keith on vocals. It’s a more muscular take on melodic Hard Rock with a crunchy and straight-forward rhythm and an in-your-face refrain that sticks by first listen – great stuff! Closing track “Comfort Zone” brings on a groovy bass-line by Brian Wheat and Troy Luccketta’s swinging drums makes it a rhythmic rocker that holds a crunchy and darker twist where Frank Hannon and Dave Rude’s guitars takes the tune on a gritty ride. It’s classic Tesla at times but the big-layered backing vocals and rhythms of the refrain brings on a clear Lep-vibe. A killer tune and it’s great that the album ends with a rocker.
I wonder if the album is called Shock for a reason because if you’re expecting a classic Tesla sounding album, I guess you’re in for one. Quality-wise, the album deserves a high-score because the songs are all excellent. However, if I want to listen to Def Leppard, I will put on a Def Leppard album and Phil Collen’s day-job is all over this record and I want Tesla to sound like Tesla and on this album, that happens on too few occasions – many times this album sounds like Def Lep with Jeff Keith singing. Also, Tesla’s productions are usually gritty, crunchy and quite raw whereas the production here is way too smooth and slick. Then there’s the ballads. Tesla always wrote killer ballads – and they have done so here as well – but that doesn’t mean that they should be everywhere. I love Tesla when they rock out and this album contains too many ballads and mid-paced tunes. But, the songs are too damn good to dismiss the album. It’s great record, I just wish it sounded more like classic Tesla.
More Tesla reviews:
1. You Won’t Take Me Alive
2. Taste Like
3. We Can Rule The World
5. Love Is A Fire
6. California Summer Song
7. Forever Loving You
8. The Mission
9. Tied To The Tracks
11. I Want Everything
12. Comfort Zone