Tesla

Time's Makin' Changes - The Best of Tesla (Geffen ’95) Rating: A-

There was a brief period in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when this hard rock band was in vogue, and this 15-track “best of” collection does a solid job of showcasing their talents. Though unfairly lumped within the hair metal scene (Poison, Warrant, etc.), Tesla differed from those pretty boy bands in two respects: 1) their lead singer wasn’t especially pretty, and the band preferred t-shirts and jeans to spandex and hair spray, so their music not their look was the focus, and 2) their music was derived from a much bluesier, more sincere hard rock source. Raspy-voiced singer Jeff Keith is a gritty, soulful shouter, and the guitar tag team of Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch come up with some good riffs and solos, while the rhythm section of bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta are rock solid. True, the band offers little in the way of originality, and they can be a bit generic and cheesy at times, but these earnest, scruffy overachievers still had more in common with righteous Southern rockers like The Black Crowes than ‘80s hair bands. This album starts with three songs from their strong debut album, Mechanical Resonance, including the hard charging “Modern Day Cowboy,” the song that first got the band noticed. The Great Radio Controversy took them to another level commercially due to the excellent power ballad “Love Song,” a top 10 hit, and other strong album tracks that are also included here, such as “Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)” and “The Way It Is” (actually, the latter tune was also a minor hit, and I’ve always loved this one, as like many of their songs it’s both effectively mellow and rocking, plus it has soul to spare and a great singable chorus). Their next album was both surprising and successful, as the aptly titled live album Five Man Acoustical Jam spawned a top 10 hit with their cover of Five Man Electrical Band's “Signs.” The success of this energetic, catchy number provided a precursor to the MTV unplugged phenomenon of the early 1990s, and “Paradise,” a very good acoustic ballad, is also included here from that live album. Returning to the studio after that atypical detour, the boys decided to rock out again on Psychotic Supper, on which the band’s bluesy brand of meat and potatoes hard rock was again delivered with plenty of gusto and skill. The three excellent selections from that album here include the rocking and thoughtful (certainly by the standards of that empty headed era) “Edison’s Medicine,” the heartfelt, soulful ballad turned rocker "Song & Emotion," and the epic "What You Give," with its anthemic sing along chorus. Bust A Nut was a comparative disappointment (in large part due to the rise of grunge and the death of hair metal) but was also not without its virtues, such as “A Lot To Lose,” and this album then ends with a decent previously unreleased track (“Steppin’ Over”) and another good song from their debut, “Changes,” strangely enough the only song here not sequenced chronologically. Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of every song here, as even at their best the band are more likely to be very good than great, but on the whole I really like listening to this compilation. The band’s original albums are generally worth hearing as well, especially the first three, but whenever I listen to Tesla this is the album I’ll typically put on, which is why it’s the one I'm reviewing.

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