Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TESLA "Simplicity"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. MP3
  2. Ricochet
  3. Rise And Fall
  4. So Divine...
  5. Cross My Heart
  6. Honestly
  7. Flip Side!
  8. Other Than Me
  9. Break Of Dawn
  10. Burnout To Fade
  11. Life Is A River
  12. Sympathy
  13. Time Bomb
  14. 'Til That Day
  15. Burnout To Fade (writing demo) BONUS TRACK
  16. Honestly (writing demo) BONUS TRACK

Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Brian Wheat--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano
Frank Hannon--Lead Guitar, Piano, Backing Vocals, Bass
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals, Bass
Troy Luccketta--Drums, Percussion

From the second the needle drops on the new Tesla record...and yes, the first sound you hear will be a needle caressing vinyl...the band comes out with their trademark "normal guys rocking out" vibe that fans have come to expect.  Twenty five years after the band first burst on the scene with Mechanical Resonance, the band still sounds like Tesla, which says something about the continuity of the band, as well as the comfort level these guys have with who they are.  Tesla is, and always has been, a blue collar hard rock band, and the new record, aptly titled Simplicity, finds the guys continuing in that vein with a large degree of success.

The disc starts off with four straight solid rockers of various tempos.  As mentioned, opening track "MP3" starts things off with the sound of a needle dropping on a vinyl album, with Jeff Keith lamenting the current digital age as far as music and personal communication goes.  While I probably would have dropped this track back down in the tracklisting a bit (it just doesn't come out rocking as hard as others here), this mid-tempo number is a good track that is unmistakably Tesla through and through.  I do have to wonder if the band is allowing this album to be sold on iTunes or Amazon, as it would seem to be a tad bit hypocritical in light of the lyrics...but I digress.

The next track would have been my choice to open the album, as "Ricochet" is one of the catchiest tracks on this record.  With it's Nugent name-dropping chorus ("like Uncle Ted said, a 'Free For All'..."), sassy delivery, and smooth guitar work, this track is one that is destined to be a standard in Tesla set-lists for years to come.  "Rise And Fall" features a smooth bass and drum intro, accompanied by a chugging guitar riff, and Keith's easily recognizable vocals.  Aerosmith fans will likely find themselves drooling over this one!  "So Divine..." starts off a bit on the slow side but rapidly builds into one of those unquestionably Tesla rockers built around a sparser sounding verse and then pounding things home during the chorus and the solo break.  This one could have come straight off the Mechanical Resonance album as far as sound and approach goes, and is my favorite overall track on Simplicity.  I absolutely love this song.

Speaking of sounding like classic Tesla, "Sympathy" has a bass line that sounds so much like the into to "Hang Tough" that it's almost like art imitating art.  Again, this harder-edged number is pure Tesla, edged out only by "So Divine..." and the next track, "Time Bomb" for my favorites on the album.  "Time Bomb" has a dirty, gritty guitar tone, and takes on a subtle modern vibe to the track, but there is no question as to who is delivering the goods here, as snarl of Keith and the swagger of the song keep this solidly in Tesla territory.  "Break Of Dawn" is the other real rocker here, and once again, classic Tesla in its approach and execution.  These five songs alone would have made for a killer EP that I would have slapped my $9.99 to buy in an instant; they are that good and that Tesla in their sound.

"Flipside!" is an interesting track, throwing some harmonica into the bluesy mix to great effect.  I love the way the chorus is phrased, also, and Keith's delivery of the lines just nails this song for me.  I would imagine this song will find itself being pushed as a single at some point, although we all know there are few radio stations that will play it.  "Honestly" floats somewhere between balland and mid-tempo rocker, especially once the simple yet harder-edged chorus snags your ear and pulls your attention around.  The strongest slow number, at least for me, however, would be "Other Than Me", which reminds me of a lot of the band's Great Radio Controversy album stylistically.  Good, good stuff on these three songs as well.

A couple of songs push the boundaries of Tesla's sound just a bit.  "Burnout To Fade" reminds me a lot of the smooth, contemporary approach utilized by the Eagles back in the 70's, and album closer "'Til That Day" treads very closely to the crossover country sound utilized by bands like Restless Heart and Little Texas in the 90's.  Both are solidly crafted, with "Til That Day" being a particularly good song that comes across as contemplative and reflective, featuring slide guitar, some simple piano work, and acoustic moments that really combine for a nice closer to a very good record.

At 14 tracks (16 if you have the deluxe version, which I have), the record does get a bit long, and some subtle whittling here and there would serve the disc well.  Personally, I would probably drop "Cross My Heart", which is just a bit too honky tonk and dredges a bit too deeply into the Skynyrd-meets-Black Crowes vibe for my tastes.  Not a horrible song, just not one of the stronger tracks here.  I also think "Life Is A River" is the weakest of the slower material here and doesn't really add much to the record.  To my ear, it sounds like the band tried to come up with another "Love Song" and just fell short.  And the Keith's attempt to imitate a dog barking, humorous or not, makes me cringe each time I hear it.  Additionally, if I were to buy the record again, I would just get the standard version, as the two bonus tracks really add nothing for me.

On a side note, I was surprised that 2013's digital single "Taste My Pain" wasn't included here...bummed, to be quite I think that is a great song that would have fit extremely well here, especially in lieu of one or two of the weaker songs.  Not sure why it was omitted, but I can only hope it is because we are getting closer to the oft hinted at Tesla boxed set, and that it will be included there as an added incentive to snag that set.  Who knows...

The packaging?  Hey, it's Frontiers Records, so you get the great with the not-so-great, as is typical.  Yes, its a digipack, but I'm getting to the point that the complaining isn't even worth the typing because it's obvious these aren't going away.  That being said, the rest of the packaging is what we have come to expect from this excellent record label that knows what its fans want and delivers upon nearly 100% of the time.

Simplicity is not Mechanical Resonance or Great Radio Controversy, but it is also better than Into The Now or Forever More.  A solid, solid record that is on the must-have list for 2014, for sure.

Rating:  This is pure Tesla, and a dang fine record.  Crank this to 8!

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