CD Review: Tesla / Simplicity
Reviewed by: Roger Scales
Never has an album cover and title truly described a band at its core. Tesla, although first arriving in 1986 at the height of hair bands and commercial rock, were really never a band about presentation. They never had big hair, stage theatrics, spandex or racy videos filled with vixens. They did however tour with many of these bands and like it or not got lumped into that era, fairly or unfairly. My introduction to the band was from the first time I saw ‘Modern Day Cowboy” on MTV and my first Tesla show was seeing them opening for Def Leppard on the Hysteria tour. I thought they had boundless energy, were fun on stage and wrote memorable classic rock songs that were easy to sing along with.
I WORE out my first Mechanical Resonance cassette in my car and my first Tesla shirt is so old I could read a book though it. I think Tesla could have started out in the 70’s and still had success because they are more of a classic blues rock band than one that that relied on a rock anthem approach or a pop ballad (“Love Song” notwithstanding). Also with the added element of the dual guitar player approach of Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch on both electric and acoustic guitars they also seemed to attract a metal or “shredder” crowd as well. I think what fact goes very underrated and under appreciated is that Tesla really started the whole “Unplugged” phenomenon in 1990 with Five Man Acoustical Jam. MTV just sort of jumped on their bandwagon in a sense and a whole new genre was born.
Well now here we are in 2014 and almost six years removed from their last studio album Forever More and nearly 8 years since Dave Rude replaced Tommy Skeoch as the second guitarist in Tesla. Simplicity offers Tesla in familiar territory – straightforward, no frills “one take” rockers with a few slower numbers thrown to change the pace but not the flow. Something for everyone and not at all hindered by overproduction or complicated lyric content. Ordinary, every day, content just as it was intended to be. Let’s go along for the ride shall we?
“MP3” starts us off with the sound of a needle dropping on vinyl and the twin guitar sounds of Hannon and Rude carry the listener off on yet another classic Tesla riff. I love the meaning behind this track because it talks about modern day technology vs. the physical product purchase of a record or cd. My feelings on this have been proudly displayed on numerous occasions so I shall not bore you with yet another rant. Suffice to say that the word and feel of “Simplicity” is a key element in this one and could have been the title of the track instead of what was used.
“Ricochet” starts off sounding a little like “Take Me Away (Together As One)” off of Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album – works for me. Then it kicks in vintage Tesla fashion. Nice Ted Nugent reference of “Free for All” in the chorus. Great track with some terrific guitar parts.
“Rise and Fall” has some cool bass grooves from Brian Wheat throughout. A mid-tempo rocker with some acoustic guitar at the bridge; the pace is smooth and the song has quality throughout. Winner.
“So Divine…” is clearly a song about the loss of friends. It has that somewhat traditional Tesla half acoustic/half electric guitar part reminiscent of “Song and Emotion” but they are totally different. Jeff Keith shines on this type of track because he’s such an emotional singer and the results reflect that.
“Cross My Heart” almost has a honky tonk feel to it with its keyboard/piano and acoustic guitars. It’s sort of a slap your lap, sway your shoulders feel good track. It does have a nice electric lead during the bridge. Very catchy..sounds like Frank on the harmonies?
“Honestly” is a straight up commercial hit. This should be the next single. Slow but not a ballad or love song. Similar in lyrical content to “Be a Man” but with a bit more bite to it – love this one.
“Flip Side” has some harmonica, snapping fingers, acoustic guitars and talks about marijuana usage for medical purposes. Not a topic near or dear to my own heart but clever lyrics and some additional cool two part guitar playing.
“Other Than Me” is very catchy lyrically and has that Jeff Keith emotion again shinning though in the vocal. Extremely enjoyable track and could be another hit.
“Break of Dawn” is the rocker I have been waiting for since “MP3”. Heavy, melodic and has some major hook value. This one will be a favorite in the live set; I would open with it. Some cool tempo changes during the lead.
“Burnout to Fade” slows the pace down again but not to a stop by any means. More emotion filled vocals from Jeff make this song as easy to enjoy as the others.
“Life is a River” is as spiritual as Tesla gets I guess. Just let it flow..take one day at a time sort of mentality. It’s just a real simple take to life, which is more or less the general these of the entire record.
“Sympathy” starts out with some real serious groove from Brian on bass and then really gets heavy with some nasty guitar from Dave and Frank. One of the better tracks on the album for sure. Fans of shredders will love this one.
“Time Bomb” suffers from a lack of groove and any memorable guitar parts. I tried but could not connect with this track on any level. I really disliked the vocal on the chorus most of all. Yelling and screaming and no real melody makes this one a true bomb.
“Til That Day” ends the album on a positive note with Jeff Keith singing from his heart and that’s where Tesla wins me over every time. Uplifting, although at a slower pace, this song has some interesting piano and acoustic guitar parts.
Overall, classic Tesla fans will love this record as much as I did. 13 of the 14 tracks are winners and when I’m not pushing ahead to the next song, that’s a true sign of a real winner. Simplicity stays true to its intent of giving the listener something simple or ordinary but at the same time truly enjoyable. The record gives you all of that and more. Looks like Tesla co-produced with Tom Zutaut with Michael Wagner mixing. The band knows what it wants and Michael certainly knows what fans want in terms of that endearing Tesla sound. I have to admit given the album had 14 tracks and for me not to connect on only a single track I’d take that average any day. I’m certain Tesla would as well.
Simplicity is out on June 10th but fans can pre-order the new disc now here.