Metal groups have a hell of a time making the pop charts. It's worth going after since all but a handful of groups need a pop hit for name recognition and to build an audience. There are two ways to go about this. The most obvious is to release a power ballad that will surely race up the charts. The second, less traveled path, is to release a cover of a hit from the previous decade. Tesla did both. "Love Song" was their ballad and "Signs," originally recorded by the Five Man Electrical Band, was the cover.
Originally calling themselves City Kid, the Sacramento based band took their name from scientist Nikola Tesla. Formed in '84 they made their debut LP two years later with the highly acclaimed "Mechanical Resonance" - the title taken from one of Tesla's theories. Released in '89, sophomore album "The Great Radio Controversy," containing "Love Song" out performed "Mechanical Resonance" on the charts. Breaking the mold, a live acoustic set, "Five Man Acoustical Jam," came next. Their version of "Signs," an admittedly weak song from a forgettable one hit wonder, became Tesla's biggest chart success. With their acoustic adventure behind them Tesla roared back with the extended (70 minutes) "Psychotic Supper" in '91. Three years later "Bust A Nut" had their standard Metal and included a cover version of Joe South's "Games People Play," which failed to have any impact.
The group's fortunes were lagging when Skeoch left in mid-1995. The rest of the band toured as a quartet before also calling it a day. Skeoch returned five years later for a live Tesla set in their native Sacramento, which led to a reunion tour. In '04, they released "Into The Now."
Dealing with substance abuse problems, Skeoch had been in and out of the band since '94. Stating that he wanted to spend more time with his family (an explanation dismissed in some quarters), Skeoch officially left in '06. Tesla brought in Dave Rude. "I'll never say never; who knows, maybe I'll go back someday," said Skeoch a little while later.
Nearly every band in existence started their career playing covers. Most ambitious or credible bands move away from covers and to their own material as soon as possible. Now things seem to have come full circle. Bands with a lengthy history are returning to covers. Does the world really need another version of a classic song? The only conceivable exception is if the group tries to give the song a different reading than the original. But more often than not these covers sound like pale imitations. Still, they keep coming. In '07, Tesla released not one but two covers albums - "Reel To Reel" and "Reel To Reel 2."
The first, a 13-song CD, was sold in a case with a slot for the second CD. The 12-song second CD was available to U.S. concert-goers at no additional charge - aside from buying a ticket.
Next up was Tesla's first world tour (Japan, Australia and Europe) in 16 years. The group then unfurled the Terry Thomas ("Bust A Nut") produced "Forever More." The set was the first full-album of original material recorded with Rude and came out on the group's Tesla Electric Company Recordings.
The truth is that Tesla never equaled their debut "Mechanical Resonance." "Ez Come EZ Go," "Modern Day Cowboy" and the brilliant "Rock Me To The Top" are as good as it gets. And it gets real good. "The Great American Radio Controversy" is solid. "Five Man Acoustical Band" is a low-key effort. "Signs" has an obvious appeal. But the only thing that can be said for their shot at The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" is that it's less ponderous than Deep Purple's take. However, they manage a credible version of CCR's "Lodi." "Psychotic Supper" kicks but "Bust A Nut" hangs by a thread. It was a mistake to go to the well a second time (following "Signs") to mine a '70's socially conscious song in "Games People Play."
After a prolonged absence it's extremely difficult for a group to comeback. Should they chase the latest trends and risk looking silly, or worse, irrelevant. Or should they simply re-hash past successes and hope their style has aged well.
Tesla's "Into The Now" tries both approaches with mixed results. The title track is a dark Rocker and a good start. But it's the acoustic material that fares best. "What A Shame" and "Words Can't Explain" have some energy and focus. "Miles Away," despite some good guitar work, is a plodding attempt at being current. "Caught In A Dream" doesn't connect either and includes the laughable line, "if you can imagine this, the whole world sharing one big kiss." There are good songs like the powerful "Heaven Nine Eleven" and the appealing "Look @ Me," but Tesla has done much better.
"Reel To Reel" and "2" work best when Tesla adds a tougher edge to pop-oriented songs. "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Hand Me Down World" and "I Got A Feeling" from Reel To Reel" and "All The Young Dudes" and "Street Fighting Man" on "2" are not necessarily better than the originals but they take the songs for a different spin. But what's even more interesting, and often entertaining, is when Tesla takes a swing at R&B/Funk numbers like "I Want To Take You Higher" or the Temptations' "Ball Of Confusion." Goes to show you can Rock just about anything. These tracks, and they all don't work, offer something relatively fresh and unexpected. But when Tesla takes a shot at Metal classics like "War Pigs" or "Space Truckin'" they're little more than a competent covers band.
Why is it many groups come out smokin', then dish a series of ballads? It's like "we've proved we can Rock so now it's time to give the drummer a break and let our singer emote." Before you know it, there are power ballads, powerless ballads and arena anthems. Ballads are OK as a change of pace - maybe two or three. "Forever More" has five.
The album opens strong with the title track and the excellent "I Wanna Live." The slow songs are interrupted by the rude and crude kicker "All Of Me." Forever More" closes with "The Game," a slash and burn track that confirms Tesla still has it - would be nice to hear more.