BY JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
TESLA – MECHANICAL RESONANCE (1986)
When I wrote about the Tesla album The Great Radio Controversy for The Cassette Chronicles series back in September 2021 I mentioned that it was the album that had kickstarted my fandom for Tesla. I had heard the songs they played on the radio from Mechanical Resonance, which is the band’s debut album, but I had never gotten around to buying the album even though I really liked the music.
Of course, once I became a full-fledged fan of the band, I made sure to go back and get their debut release. And now seems like the perfect time to write about it.
As I said, I heard songs on the radio so I certainly knew of the band’s music. Officially, there were three singles released from the album. While none of them really made an impact on the Billboard singles chart, they certainly hit home on rock radio and the associated lists for the rock genre.
With twelve songs on the album, there’s a wealth of material to dig into so let’s get started, shall we?
Side One of the album opens with “EZ Come EZ Go”, which the band brings forth on kind of a slow boil. The song opens relatively calmly with brief instrumentation, then the vocals from Jeff Keith break in but the tempo still remains relatively sedate. But man, after Tesla hits that first break after the opening lyrical stanza, they are just cooking with fire on this song. You get this explosion of energetic rock that leaves no doubt that the band can bring down some heavy and thunderous rock and roll.
For the song “Cumin’ Atcha Live”, I have a vague recollection of hearing the song on the radio, even though it wasn’t released as a single. There’s an excellent guitar-driven intro to the song that definitely piques your interest before the band comes on in full. It’s a fiery display and the song pretty much soars along as the more rocking pace takes over.
“2 Late 4 Love” is a solid track but I really enjoyed the song “Gettin’ Better” a whole lot as well. The track was the third of the three singles released from Mechanical Resonance and it always gets me the way this song turned out. It starts off as more of a ballad, the softer music and the more restrained, almost brittle-sounding vocal turn from Jeff Keith. But then you get a more vibrantly aggressive turn in the music and suddenly the song becomes powered by Frank Hannon’s and Tommy Skeoch’s guitar lines and raises the stakes for the song.
Of course, if you are looking for more of that fleet-fingered fretwork, you just have to wait until the next song in the track listing because “Rock Me To The Top” is a full bore rocker right from the start. It shines the spotlight on Hannon and Skeoch but powering out that underlying rhythmic foundation is Troy Luccketa behind the kit and Brian Wheat on bass. If you can’t feel yourself getting amped up by this song, you might just be dead.
The first side of the album ends with the song “We’re No Good Together”. This song is definitely more of a ballad throughout most of the song. But towards the end, the power driven side of Tesla’s music rears its head and makes it more of a rocker. Thus, you could probably get away with calling this a “power ballad”. Oh, and I should mention that I really liked how the guitars came out on the end of the track. There was a great sound there and it helped me get into the song that much more by the end of the song.
As for Side Two, Tesla really hit the nail on the head with the song “Modern Day Cowboy”. It’s not only a monster track in and of itself, but it stands as one of their classic tracks as well. Not bad for a song from your first album. The opening still gives me a jolt when I hear it and though I did hear them perform the song when I saw them in concert, I’m hoping to get to see them live once again in the near future because I definitely want to hear them do it again!
The song “Changes” has a bit of back and forth to it. Starting off kind of slow, the tempo rises up into more of a full on rocker during the song’s chorus before settling back into a more measured delivery for the next main lyrical passage. But man, when Tesla wants to rock out, they do it quite well on this track.
Tesla next ramps up the volume with a double shot of killer rock songs with “Love Me” and “Little Suzi”. With “Love Me”, it’s just a bouncy burst of rock-n-roll that keeps you feet tapping and your fist in the air. But on “Little Suzi”, things are a bit more interesting. The main reason for that interest is that it is actually a cover song. It was originally done by a group called Ph.D. Now, that information is readily available online but for whatever reason, I’m always forgetting that. The reason for that is because the band does such a great job of making this track their own. Rocked up and in-your-face, “Little Suzi” was released as a single as well. It may not have made a mark on the charts but I’ll be damned if this isn’t another of the band’s standout tracks…even if said track isn’t their own original work.
By the way, when I said it was a double shot of killer rock, I was forgetting about the song “Cover Queen”. It’s another uptempo and lively rocker. Oddly enough, it is a song that I rather enjoy. But I’m not sure just how appreciated this particular song is by the fanbase overall. It isn’t like I took a survey or anything. But every time I do listen to the album, I get reminded how much I like the song. And yet despite that, I never really seem to notice anyone mentioning the song if there is a Tesla conversation going on. I’d love to find out more about that just for my own personal knowledge.
The album closes out on the song “Before My Eyes” and this is the one song that really seems to set itself up as a bit of a challenge. Was Tesla going for the idea of creating something just a bit different than the rest of the music they were offering up on Mechanical Resonance? There seems to be more of a concerted effort to make the song sound like it is being done as more of a dramatic presentation. And is it me or is there some kind of extra effect mixed in on Jeff Keith’s vocal track? It sounds a bit off. Okay, the song overall isn’t bad, just a bit different. It may not be the first song I think about when I want to hear some Tesla music but I like that even on their debut album, Tesla wasn’t afraid to mix things up a bit.
Clearly as you’ve been reading this piece, you can tell that I like the album. Once I went back and got my hands on it back in the day, I was indeed quite taken with it. But what really interests me the most is how the music still holds up so strongly today. And not just the songs that everyone will recognize (though that is always good too) but the more album oriented numbers stand out fine on their own as well.
NOTES OF INTEREST – The Mechanical Resonance album has been certified platinum. My copy of the cassette includes in the liner notes, the story of how Tesla and then the Mechanical Resonance album came into existence.
With the exception of the cover of “Little Suzi”, the remaining eleven songs on the album feature co-writing credits (in varying combinations) from all five members of the band.
Drummer Troy Luccketta is currently absent from the Tesla lineup. Given what I’ve read in online interviews with bassist Brian Wheat, it doesn’t appear he’s going to rejoin the band any time soon, if at all.