Released on March 8, 2019 (Universal Music Enterprises)
When I first heard that Tesla were putting out a new record, I was cautiously excited. I love Tesla‘s work and truthfully believe that more recent albums such as Into The Now and Forever More are great releases that measure up to the classics. But, when Keith Roth of Sirius XM‘s Hair Nation stated that the album was produced by Def Leppard‘s Phil Collen, I must admit my interest subsided a bit. While I am, as most sleaze rock fans, fond of a great deal of Def Leppard‘s material, the pop sounding, sometimes bordering on boy band-ish tracks that pass as a modern day Def Leppard album are underwelming to say the very least. After all, Erik Turner of Warrant quipped on a “100 Most Metal Moments” countdown in 2004, “If you look up “Rock” in the dictionary, it is Tesla.” I’d hate for that to change over to “Pop Rock.”
As I internalized this, as a new Tesla album does cause a mind like mine to work overtime due to the fact that I am such a fan of the band’s overall body of work, I started to weigh up the pros and cons of the new album. On the negatives, a more pop oriented producer, regardless his musical ties, will soften the band’s sound without question. On the positive side, Tesla‘s last album Simplicity left a lot to be desired in a lot of ways. Simplicity was produced on cassettes as many established bands wanted to go back to the old way of recording in an effort to give that classic sound. Tesla did this on their covers records also and KISS did this on Monster. The results could be debated. But, Simplicity wasn’t as rich of a sounding album as we expect from new Tesla music. Frankly, some of that material just fell flat all together. It was not a bust of an album… I really liked the song “Honestly.” But, put up against the 21st century Tesla releases, it did not measure up. I think the band even agrees with this point.
So, here we are. 2019. Tesla‘s last album was five years prior. Their tours have mostly been as the confirmed opening act of Def Leppard (which means I haven’t seen them recently for that very reason). And, Def Leppard‘s Phil Collen is producing their new album after the pretty good song “Save that Goodness” that he produced as a bonus track on the band’s recent live album. But, what would a whole album of new Tesla music sound like with Phil Collen‘s influence?
Well, when Amazon dropped the CD off on my porch Friday morning, the answer was upon us. And, that answer is… It is pretty darn good! Every one of the concerns about the production were valid. The album IS softer overall than most Tesla albums, especially the 21st century releases. There is some rampart overproduction that detracts from the songs. And, sort of cementing the last point, there is a lot of Def Leppard styled backing vocals that occasionally are used in place of Jeff Keith that pull a little away from the organic feel of the song’s energy. Those are the negatives. There, I got them out. Now, the good news. The songs are well written, sound big and fresh, and — perhaps best of all — Collen has gotten the best vocal performance from Jeff Keith that we have heard in years. I mean, singer Jeff Keith sounds incredible on this record and I don’t think many will argue me on that statement.
For me, the best songs on here are the ones that rock. “You Won’t Take Me Alive” is a great track to start with and has a good defiant attitude that should have started the album given just how many soft songs there were. “Taste Like” is a very Def Leppard sounding track but still rocking and catchy. The title track “Shock” is very rocking but needed a guitar bridge without question. “The Mission” is one of my favorites as it sounds most like something off of Into The Now. “Tied To The Tracks” has an awesome guitar sound to it that is almost like if Cinderella‘s”The More Things Change” was mashed up with Nickelback‘s “Something In Your Mouth”, of course with Tesla goodness as the main ingredient. And, “I Want Everything” is a great song that maybe has a feel of “Flip Side!” off Simplicity but lands better with fast vocals by Jeff Keith and a driving beat — kind of Tesla‘s answer to Billy Joel‘s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Good luck remembering all those lyrics live!
Part of the problem with the album is the guitars are not always as powerful as you would expect on a Tesla release. There is an episode of the Cosby Show where Grandpa Huxtable is going to play jazz with his old band for the first time in decades and he is playing slowly and out of tune. Grandma Huxtable keeps trying to pep him up and ultimately gets him going by eluding to sexual favors if he performs well. Though I don’t think Grandma Huxtable would have done much to excite Frank Hannon or Dave Rude, I think inspiration was needed in the guitars department and “shock” to inspire more of the blazing heat and almost angry, something to prove play, that we heard on tracks like “Hang Tough”, “Cumin’ Atcha Live”, and even in later works like “In A Hole Again.” A prime example is on “You Won’t Take Me Alive.” The song is catchy, hard rocking, and ready made for a great guitar solo. The bridge gets you ready and instead, we get a boogie woogie riff that fits. It isn’t exactly out of place. It just isn’t as powerful as it could or should have been.
I thought of a few humorous ideas. Instead of Grandma Huxtable, maybe someone in the studio should have whispered to Dave Rude that he’s not as good as the original guy and told Frank Hannon that his hair looks like someone poured a cup of noodles over his head. Neither is true. But, it might have gotten a little more anger out of their play at times and less boogie woogie.
The softer songs are hit and miss for me… There are too many of them, first of all. The first times through, I skipped the obviously softer songs after three or four of them because… Enough already! But, I’ve gone back and as is usually the case, the tender songs work well for Tesla. Many of them have a different vibe than you would expect. “We Can Rule The World” is the first softer track and it, at times has a mid 2000’s pop feel. It works, but it isn’t one I’ll likely leave on as I pass through the album. “Love Is A Fire” is a great mid tempo love song with a powerful chorus. This track is awesome. “California Summer Song” was released as a teaser, perhaps online single is the right phrase, for the album and it is a severe departure from what you would expect from Tesla. Yet, it works as a catchy song you’ll catch yourself singing later on as you are doing laundry — I promise you. “Forever Loving You” is a litle more modern sounding. “Afterlife” falls flat for me at least upon the first weekend of listening and likely will be skipped over most times afterwards.
Overall, Shock is a good record. A little soft at times. But, it holds up to the Tesla classics well. If you’re a fan of Tesla from the glory days, this album slides in to that collection easily. If you are looking for a more dirty, heavy sounding Tesla like Into The Now or Forever More, this one has some stuff for you but is certainly a departure from that direction. But, this is not a modern Def Leppard album as many had feared. Those that want to pan the album as such will have plenty to point at on the record to support their negativity. But, those who give it a chance will find a really good collection of songs with a really talented band and a singer who sounds better than he has in years thanks, in part, to producer Phil Collen.
01. You Won’t Take Me Alive
02. Taste Like
03. We Can Rule The World
05. Love Is A Fire
06. California Summer Song
07. Forever Loving You
08. The Mission
09. Tied To The Tracks
11. I Want Everything
12. Comfort Zone
Jeff Keith – vocals
Frank Hannon – guitar, backing vocals, keyboard, piano, harmonica and mandolin
Dave Rude – guitar and backing vocals
Brian Wheat – bass, backing vocals, keyboard and piano
Troy Luccketta – drums
Produced by Phil Collen
Tesla‘s “Shock” song:
Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group Shock · Tesla California Summer Song + Taste Like + Shock ℗ A Universal Music Enterprises release; ℗ 2019 Tesla Electric Company Recordings, Inc., under exclusive license to UMG Recordings, Inc.
Tesla‘s “You Won’t Take Me Alive” song:
Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group You Won’t Take Me Alive · Tesla Shock ℗ A Universal Music Enterprises release; ℗ 2019 Tesla Electric Company Recordings, Inc., under exclusive license to UMG Recordings, Inc.
Tesla‘s “California Summer Song” track:
Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group California Summer Song · Tesla California Summer Song + Taste Like + Shock ℗ A Universal Music Enterprises release; ℗ 2019 Tesla Electric Company Recordings, Inc., under exclusive license to UMG Recordings, Inc.