Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 8 Mar 2019
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I remember Tesla with fondness from their first couple of albums, Mechanical Resonance and The Great Radio Controversy. Those were released back in the very late eighties, before everything changed. It doesn't surprise me that I missed out on the next couple in the post-Nevermind early nineties or that the band split up in 1996. Well, they got back together in 2000, with the same line-up, which is mostly intact today (they swapped Tommy Skeoch for Dave Rude back in 2006) and they've now released just as many albums after reforming as they did before they split up.
Shock sounds relatively consistent with what I remember, being a dozen old school hard rock songs, some rockers and some ballads, performed without a heck of a lot of fuss. There's a swagger that tends to be associated with glam, mostly through Jeff Keith's vocals, but they were never a glam band and they aren't now. California Summer Song shows that he and they are as comfortable with a country vibe as a rock one.
What's new here that I don't remember is a bounce that could well come from the involvement of Phil Collen of Def Leppard, who produced the album. Now, Tesla always had an energy to them (pun not intended) but there's a sort of commercial crispness here that I don't recall and there are more handclaps and radio-friendly melodies and a more subdued, more electronic drum sound. This is slick and it knows it. It wants to be heard and in places outside the ones we might expect from a reformed eighties rock band. There's an ache for commercial success here that I remember from Def Leppard, who tweaked a successful sound in certain directions to get there.
It's certainly well put together, so best of luck to them. Of course, as a single listener, I can only speak critically not commercially. It's a good album and I'm enjoying it, but I wonder if it's too overtly commercial with too many ballads. Forever Loving You, seven tracks in, is the third ballad and the softest of them, though it has an intriguing Saigon Kick edge to it that I rather enjoyed.
The Tesla I think most people want to hear is most apparent on tracks like You Won't Take Me Alive and Tied to the Tracks, which are more up tempo and actually seem to feature a bass and a drumkit that has more than one drum, as well as a flair that comes from slide guitar and sassy vocals. These are kick ass songs, but still controlled ones. The band might sound loose and improvisational but I think it's a very choreographed looseness.
I think the best material here is in between those two extremes. I'm rather fond of The Mission, which starts out more like a ballad but is happy to let its guitar to finally run free. It's the most honest song here, which helps me not only to like it more but to realise just how the band perhaps aren't just being themselves on this album. This track is old school Tesla and it's great stuff.
The Mission plays to me like a "go on, just have fun" track on an album that feels otherwise carefully constructed to be diverse, radio-friendly and very commercial. I can't say that I don't like it, because it's very easy to like and Collen's production may well take them back to a level of success that they enjoyed three decades ago, but it's too clean and calculated for me.
This is music that I'd turn up on the radio while driving past the stadium that Tesla have filled to get to the club where a smaller band are going to just jam all night. It sounds good but it's fourteen dollar Budweiser music, when I just want a seven dollar Guinness. And no, I won't be picking up the Target exclusive edition with three extra tracks.