TESLA “The Great Radio Controversy.” Geffen. ***
Tesla’s 1986 debut, “Mechanical Resonance,” was a solid hard-rock album that almost went platinum and was almost outstanding. The Sacramento quintet’s new release has the same intriguing elements as the first record--changing moods, a willingness to twist the standard rock ‘n’ roll form--but takes it several steps further.
This Steve Thompson/Michael Barbiero-produced LP contains 13 full-length tunes, but Tesla rarely repeats itself. Each track has its own personality, from the huge arena sound of “Hang Tough” to the easy-paced, early-'70s stylings of “The Way It Is.”
This is clearly a band that takes its musicianship seriously. Guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch come up with smart licks and tasty solos. Jeff Keith lets his gritty vocals run free. He oozes cockiness on “Be a Man,” then epitomizes passionate yearning on “Goodbye Paradise.”
One standout number, “Heaven’s Trail” illustrates Tesla’s strengths. Here’s a bluesy tune (every hard rock band has ‘em these days), but Tesla plays with it by using an odd, off-beat rhythm and adding some excellent slide guitar. The result is fresh and new instead of a stale cardboard-cutout. Tesla can take an ordinary idea, add a few special touches and make it fascinating.