Remember when Tesla put out their way-over-the-top CD back in the ’80s? Oh, you don’t? That’s probably because they never did. They may have come out during the hair metal era, but they never fell into that group. Yes, they’re an 80’s hard rock band, but they offer musicianship and substance that many bands from those days lacked. That’s why I find it odd that they put that album out now with Shock.
Phil Collen from Def Leppard produced this latest effort and his influence is clear. Guitarist Frankie Hannon has said that there was a good chance that they wouldn’t have put out an album if Phil Collen hadn’t got them to do it. So, if the choice is no album or Shock, I’ll definitely take Shock. But, it’s not the Tesla you’re used to. Collen brought what he learned from Mutt Lange and how they make albums with Def Leppard. As a result, this sounds a lot like a Def Leppard album.
There are some good aspects:
- Jeff Keith’s voice sounds the best it’s sounded since Into the Now, and maybe even before that.
- The production and sound are in your face. When it works, it works great (it doesn’t always though).
The flipside and things that aren’t so great:
- The background vocals are completely different from what you’ve heard on a Tesla album. They’re quite simply Def Leppard backing vocals. It seems like a small thing, but they’re used a lot. We don’t get much of Frank Hannon’s background vocals that are part of the classic Tesla sound.
- For a record that is loud and guitar driven, most of the guitar solos are surprisingly weak. Every time you think Frank or Dave Rude are going to break out, it either turns into an acoustic solo, a super-short solo, or the song just fades out.
- The bad side of the production is that many songs are overproduced. Too many layers, too many instruments, too much going on really take away from some really good songs. All of their other albums sound like five guys playing the songs…this sounds like about 20 guys playing the songs. Collen completely misses the mark on who Tesla is in many spots. I’d love to hear stripped down Tesla versions of all of these songs.
- The “no machines” claim from the ’80s is out the door as a drum track kicks off the title track, “Shock”. I’m not sure of the point of using the drum track. It sounds thin and tinny, which isn’t what Tesla is known for.
Ok, I know with the comments above, you probably think I don’t like the album. But I actually do. It’s just bloated, but most of the songs themselves are strong. Here’s a song breakdown to give you an idea of what to expect:
- “You Won’t Take Me Alive”: This is a great song to kick off the CD (although it only takes four seconds to hear the Def Leppard background vocals). Very energetic and great performance by Jeff Keith.
- “Taste Like”: Good song, but sounds way too much like Def Leppard. The lyrics are clearly going for a Tesla version of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
- “We Can Rule the World”: Pure filler. Odd placement of this song, but not sure where else it would fit on the album.
- “Shock”: See my comment about the drum track above. This wouldn’t be my choice for a lead single as it’s just an average song.
- “Love is a Fire”: This is your usual Tesla It’s good, but builds up to what you think is going to be an epic guitar solo, but switches to a short acoustic solo so a little bit of a letdown.
- “California Summer Song”: Where’s Tommy Skeoch when you need him? He might have brought some balls to this song. It’s simply the worst Tesla song they’ve ever released. I think they were going for some half pop/half country crap you’d hear from Kid Rock. Seriously awful. Just skip it.
- “Forever Loving You”: Another acoustic ballad that at its core is a great song. But, overproduction and an orchestra (actual strings or a keyboard? Not sure) put too much into it. At its core, the best ballad on the album though.
- “The Mission”: This song just rocks. Catchy and should be the lead single. Great mix of acoustic and electric (a Tesla trademark) that finally offers a kickass guitar solo! This needs to be played live.
- “Tied to the Tracks”: By far the most “Tesla” song on the CD. Hard, crunchy riff and another catchy chorus. Stellar slide guitar throughout this one. Another song dying to be played live. Not much of a guitar solo though…a weird breakdown that doesn’t really go anywhere. Still the best song on the CD.
- “Afterlife”: Super poppy, but I really like this one. Think “Jaded” by Aerosmith, but much better…although Troy Lucketta pretty much stole their drumbeat.
- “I Want Everything”: I want to like this song than I do. The chorus is pure Def Leppard. Weird chord structure of the verses. Good guitar solos on this one though.
- “Comfort Zone”: Kick ass opening bass riff by Brian Wheat…maybe his heaviest ever. Some weird stuff going on though…drums sound like a track or some kind of effects on them. Some good guitar work, although the mix is off a little between the back and forth guitar solo. The chorus is terrible with more heavily Def Leppard-inspired backing vocals.
Overall, this album is definitely worth checking out. You’ll need an open mind if you’re a longtime Tesla fan. A few of these will sound great live as they’ll need to trim the extras off a bit…unless they use backing tracks which would be awful. I’m hoping Phil Collen producing for them is a one-time thing, but that it inspires them to continue putting out new music.