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TESLA
THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE

     I am sure that once I launch this web site I will receive many emails from people explaining to me that hair metal sucks, that it was really cheesy, and all the bands were unoriginal. Well, that's pretty much true. It's not the glam image I like (although looking at those sad pictures is quite funny), and most of the bands were cheesy and not very original. Tesla, though, were just artistically and creatively a light year ahead of most of the competition. Actually, they weren't really a hair band at all. They never dressed in glam or even had very big hair. They didn't look great but it was the '80s; no one looked cool then. It doesn't make them a hair band. There is an early Def Leppard influence in their sound (think High 'n' Dry, Pyromania), but otherwise they're more a bluesy hard rock band; Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin -- traditional, timeless, classic rock. Like Aerosmith, they have a knack for including a good tune and good harmonies, but they're no hair band. Got that? Good.
     What they were, however, is unbelievably talented and musical, with endless inventiveness and flair. They have just the right amount of originality and a lot of their ideas have been ripped-off since. Normally a band that imaginative would go prog and produce some unlistenable pap, but Tesla almost always remain accessible and enjoyable. Basically, they write classic four-minute rock songs like a lot of bands, but they always sidestep being cheesy by not quite doing the obvious thing. You should sit down and listen to
The Great Radio Controversy with me some time and I could point out all the instances to you. "Be a Man" is a good example; a pretty basic slow pop-rocker, but lyrically they're doing something with a bit more attitude and not the normal '80s rock love-y stuff. When it comes to the guitar solo, they could easily have just jammed over the verse or chorus; most bands would, and it would be okay. Tesla went one better, though, and came up with a whole new section and a great melodic solo. It improves the song no end. This is the sort of thing that just puts them one step ahead of the game. Jeff Keith's soulful but gritty voice is the icing on the cake, he is passionate, emotional, but with a real rasp when he gets loud… it's a great voice, and not many singers in rock bands are that remarkable.
     On top of that, although they're not dangerous or bad-boy like Skid Row or Motley Crue, they are a great deal grittier and earthier than most. It's a workmanlike sound, unlike the polished gloss of anthemic pop rock that Bon Jovi made. It's not that they weren't radio friendly, but they certainly weren't self-consciously trying to write hits.
The Great Radio Controversy was their most commercial album but for the most part even that CD doesn't have songs your mum could put up with. Tesla were signed by Tom Zutaut, who also signed Motley Crue and Dokken. According to the liner notes of their debut Mechanical Resonance, he told Tesla to forget how to write hit singles and play from their gut instincts. That's exactly what it sounds like they are doing. Even when they write a mellower song or a ballad, it sounds like they are doing it because they want to, not to get on the radio. They sound like they are in it for the music. By the way, I think Tesla were the best band Tom Zutaut ever signed.
     Tesla never really got that huge; they had a big hit with "Love Song" which helped propel
The Great Radio Controversy to US double platinum status, but that was their greatest success. They had a very large fanbase, though, and all their albums went platinum except for 1994's Bust a Nut, which even in the midst of grunge managed to find its way into over 800,000 American homes. That level of success is kind of indicative of how good they were though… if they'd sold more it could have meant more hit singles and more commercial albums, or perhaps an image-based marketing strategy. As it was, they basically had four platinum albums just on their musical merit. Well done guys.
     In 2004, Tesla's new studio album
Into the Now arrived, entering at #31 on the Billboard charts and shifting almost 55,000 copies in the first three weeks, which is more than the last albums by Poison and Ratt sold, period. I still haven't decided if Into the Now is any good though, so keep watching for a Rock Hole review.

Best album: The Great Radio Controversy sold the most; the band consider Psychotic Supper a high point. It was released in late 1991 but because Tesla weren't a hair band or image-based, their music stood up even when grunge rebelled against the hair band image. Bust a Nut, however, is to my mind (and many fans agree) their best moment. It is at once epic and accessible, hard rocking and melodic. It's great for any mood and has a great mix of songs. The first chapter of their career ended on a high note. I can recommend any Tesla album to you without hesitation though. Many consider Mechanical Resonance the best. It's certainly a gritty hard rock record with great songs but I only really fell in love with it after I bought Bust a Nut and went back to Mechanical Resonance to give it a spin.

Official website: www.teslatheband.com

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