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Tesla Into the Now

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Monday, March 22, 2004 @ 11:07 AM


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Tesla is back.

Jeff Keith, Frank Hannon, Troy Lucketta, Tommy Skeoch and Brian Wheat have returned with a sensational new album of electric and unplugged material to satisfy both casual and die-hard fans. Into The Now is an instant classic.

Even the CD cover is so pleasantly familiar you might ask yourself, “Don’t I own this one?”

For those who have only heard the sensational, pounding title-track, with it’s heavy riffing and tongue-in-cheek DJ scratch break: that is only the tip of the iceberg...

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“Look @ Me” continues the fine hard rock Tesla tradition, (which they should have branded). Jeff Keith’s voice sounds simply refreshing; the clarity of the driving bass and SMACK of the drums only punctuates what’s going on with Frank and Tommy, which is heavy and beguiling. Tesla offers as many hard rockers as they do ballads, but among them, the first two here are stand-outs. Followed with “What A Shame,” “Got No Glory,” “Recognize” and “Miles Away” -- these songs are right up there with “Lil Suzy” and “Heaven’s Trail.” “Got No Glory,” track 9, is every ounce a rocker, and emblematic about what makes Tesla so great: the riffing is contagious and makes you want to move, but the lyrics and the clear fine vocal of Jeff Keith, with his slender rasp, is something anyone can sing along to -- and not feel silly doing so. Rather, Tesla provokes a feeling of excitement over and over. The measure of Tesla’s popularity may not just be the appeal of a great song… any veteran of a Tesla live show knows it is an experience bordering on a big party a la The Grateful Dead. Which is not to suggest that Tesla are “hippies,” but rather, there is a human, tangible quality to their music. This is that fine stuff that never goes out of style… and sounds as fresh and new and exciting years later.

How long has it been since their last studio effort? Ten years? It’s like they never went away… thank God.

Of particular note is Frank Hannon’s “Heaven Nine Eleven.” Written solely by Hannon, this is a provocative, wonderfully nuanced acoustic/hard rock even-tempo number, whose lyrics are on par with “What U Give.” Referencing the horrible day in our recent history, Hannon’s lyrics are a plaintive reflection, a poignant story and hopeful suggestion in the face of hate and loss. Not as obvious as, say, “Dear God” by XTC; it’s much more subtle and quite beautiful. “Heaven Nine Eleven” is an absolute highlight of the record; and one of Tesla’s most excellent songs.

Of other ballads herein; “Words Can’t Explain” is fine, but “Caught In A Dream” is yet another example of what a fine group Tesla is, both as songwriters and performers. This feels like a lost gem from the late ‘60s-era Stones, and ought to elevate Jeff Keith and Frank Hannon into the ranks of a “Jagger/Richards” or a “Lennon/McCartney.”

And then, before I forget, there is the lilting ballad, “Come To Me,” that almost demands you break out a lighter and start swaying… again: more about what makes Tesla so fantastic is that they can move so comfortably between rockers and ballads without sacrificing integrity.

Worth mentioning is that “Mighty Mouse” is not a cover. It comes across as more of a metaphor for a man seeking Divine Intervention in a world so adrift. “Mighty Mouse come down and save the day/Underdog is on his way/Superman you’ve got to kick that Kryptonite/Lord knows, we need some help tonight”… both hard rocking and sing-songy, it stands out as a funny, interesting song -- no doubt soon to be a staple of their set lists…

Their gentle easy playing, jangling acoustics and hard rock aplomb, combined with the thoughtful lyrics and fantastic production confirm Tesla’s ability to endure as a band without sacrificing their heritage.

The time has come for 30-somethings to quit bitching about the current music scene and buy this amazing record and send Tesla to the top of the charts -- and send a message to MTV and radio-programmers: “Tesla rocks; that other crap you’re playing needs a rest. Thank you.”

Album of the year.

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