Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

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Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

 


Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go”features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

Tesla in 1986

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Great Radio Controversy by Tesla

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Great Radio Controversy by TeslaThe group Tesla never quite fit within any definitive genre box, which may have ultimately prevented the Northern California band from reaching their critical or commercial potential. In the 1980s they were a “hair band” that was a few steps ahead of the norm back then. In the 1990s they were too focused and upbeat to get swept up in the “grunge” wave. In between they bridged the gap with 1989’s Great Radio Controversy, their most highly renowned album. While riddled with more than its share of eighties “heavy metal” caricature, there is material on this album with soul and musicianship which few new releases touched at that time.

Formed in 1982 and originally named City Kidd, the group renamed themselves Tesla after inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, during the recording of their first album, Mechanical Resonance. The band’s signature sound was forged by lead vocalist Jeff Keith along with guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch.

Produced by the team of Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, The Great Radio Controversy contains mainly big-sounding production methods in line with 1980s pop-metal, but also reaches back to more authentic and earthy methods. The album was produced at Bearsville Studio outside of Woodstock, NY, a studio originally built by Bob Dylan’s manager.


Great Radio Controversy by Tesla
Released: February 1, 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studio, New York, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Hang Tough
Lady Luck
Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
Be a Man
Lazy Days, Crazy Nights
Did It for the Money
Yesterdaze Gone
Makin’ Magic
The Way It Is
Flight to Nowhere
Love Song
Paradise
Party’s Over
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Piano, Organ
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars
Brian Wheat – Bass
Troy Luccketta – Drums

Great Radio Controversy by Tesla

 

While the songs early on are somewhat standard, the album does improve as it progresses. Co-written by bassist Brian Wheat, “Hang Tough” starts with his mechanical bass pattern before the twin guitars come in for a harmonized riff and later return for a decent dual guitar solo. “Lady Luck” follows with some rich vocal harmonies before “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” breaks in with the driving rhythm guitar of Skeoch. A simple yet rewarding song, this third is cut by bluesy breaks in between the verses.

“Be a Man” starts with a long, bluesy slide intro before the slow riffing brings the song into its proper context. The pure rocker “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” is a notch above most tracks on the early half of the album, with a dark and determined feeling overall along with a decent vocal hook. The album continues to get stronger with “Did It for the Money”, which creatively meanders before finding its footing, which is pretty solid and strong. “Yesterdaze Gone” displays Tesla at their heaviest, almost true heavy metal in beat but firmly down in the arena rock vocally, along with a pretty wild mid section guitar lead with harmonies so rich it almost sounds like a synth envelope.

“The Way It Is” was co-written by drummer Troy Luccketta and is one of the highlights of album as well as Tesla’s career. The moody acoustic intro and verse eventually gives way to the strong yet deep choruses. The song’s bridge and outro bring the song to a whole new level sonically as repetition works well with theme and musical backing and Keith’s vocals are at their absolute zenith during “The Way It Is”

“Love Song” is nearly as impressive, being perhaps the best power ballad ever. This uni-directional song is driven by the beautiful guitar motifs of Hannon. Commencing with a complex acoustic intro before moving towards the joyful strummed electric riff that introduces the song proper. The song is complete and melodic to the end without a wasted note or moment. “Paradise” is another fine song that contains a sad acoustic intro to a love song with a distinctly different feel than the song titled “Love Song”. Keith’s vocals pick up the pace while the music remains low key in the mid section prior to a funk-influenced alternate section which follows. The closing track,”Party’s Over” tries to end the album with a rock anthem, but falls just a bit short.

Great Radio Controversy reached the Top 20 of the American album charts and spawned three Top 40 hits on the Mainstream Rock chart. In 1990, Tesla maintained their commercial momentum with the live Five Man Acoustical Jam before returning to the studio the following year with Psychotic Supper.

~

1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.
 


Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

 
“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.
 

 
“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

~
RA


1991 Images