Even as a fan of Tesla, it's not hard to look at the band and find them to be somewhat less than energetic when it comes to putting out new music. They've now come forth with just their 7th studio album of new material since 1986. Let's be honest here, folks...that's not a lot of material over a VERY LONG period of time. Still, where they lack in over-productivity, they have always made up for it in quality. While fans and casual listeners may not love everything the band has done, there's really not a release in those seven where you go, "what in the fuck is this". To the contrary, when Tesla does decide to release a new disc, it generally comes with a certain certainty of what the listening experience will be. While SIMPLICITY has been beaten up a bit for being slower and lacking of the faster rock tunes of the past, I might argue that it's the closest to what this band has always wanted to be. A seriously strong release that fuses all the greatness of rock's history with that "Tesla vibe", SIMPLICITY is one of the stronger releases in the first half of 2014.
To agree with a lot of the critics that have given SIMPLICITY a bad time, it is slower than pretty much anything Tesla has ever done in the studio. There's a few songs, like "Richocet", that have a bit of that electricity and power the band is known for, but they are few and far between. That's not what they were going for here. Throughout their career, Tesla has always had a litany of mid-tempo songs and ballads that were the soul of the band. On SIMPLICITY, that's most of the release. Songs like "Honestly" are about as deeply emotional and honest as anything the band has ever release. Vocalist Jeff Keith's lyrics let you into his feeling of loss for his own needs as he battles the fact that he's too willing to help others...even at his own expense. It's a moving song, and one that we can all relate to at one time or another in our lives. Other songs, like "Cross My Heart" are EXACTLY the kind of song that Tesla fans like. This one is a fun song that's almost certainly going to be a big hit in the live setting for the band. This is another slow song, but just has that "let's all raise our drinks and party a bit" vibe to it. In short, it's a mature party song for a mature band with now maturing fans. It's a perfect fit for the band.
When they do bring the rock, it's almost a countrified version. Maybe that's due to Keith's second career as a country singer, but whatever the reason, it does work for Tesla. Songs like "Flip Side" are fun and interesting, and feature some cool guitar work from the always solid Frank Hannon and Dave Rude. The mixing of acoustic guitar with powerful riffs in the bridges and choruses just works on this song.
PITRIFF RATING - 96/100 - I'm sure people will argue this is rated way to high, and that's fine. With Tesla, one of the unfortunate aspects of the last two releases (INTO THE NOW and FOREVERMORE) was that they wore out and didn't have enough substance to become staples in the longer term. SIMPLICITY reminds me a lot of the material on albums like BUST A NUT that even after 20 years I still visit regularly. Songs like "Shine Away" or "Mama's Fool" that have just never gotten old. Casual fans will almost certainly not get SIMPLICITY, but for the harder core fans of the band, this might be one that stays in your mind for years to come. It's just got that kind of vibe all over it.
Once upon a time, there was a pretty cool rock band called Tesla, who sang a song eagerly forecasting a "change in the weather." They were the younger generation, singer Jeff Keith asserted, and they had come to face the day. And how sweet it would be when that day finally came. They didn't have to wait long, as it turned out. Even as 1991's masterpiece Psychotic Supper was still on the charts, the mainstreaming of hip-hop, the rise of alternative rock, and the new popularity of "young country" for people who didn't like either of the above, all worked together to ring in what was to be a fairly strange, fairly shitty decade. Especially for Tesla.
Now it's 2014, and on their seventh studio album, Simplicity, Tesla are rethinking their stance on all that change, and have decided they wanna go back. To that end, they've produced an intentionally raw, unpolished release, stripping away all the modern trappings of their 2004 comeback Into The Now, and even dispensing with the singing/playing-through-a-phone sounds heard on 2008's Forever More (a recording technique commonly known as the Fucky Effect.) This is just five guys in a room, jamming on guitars tuned at or near E-standard and plugged straight into amps, and occasionally somebody pounding on the piano in the corner. In this way, Tesla weren't bullshitting when they said they were taking it back to their roots.
But of course, you can never REALLY go back. So, if you were still expecting Mechanical Resonance II, you really haven't been reading the writing on the wall.
Simplicity begins with the sound of a vinyl record spinning, or possibly milk being poured into a bowl of Rice Krispies. Then the album's de facto title track, "MP3" kicks off with what sounds like a promising opening, one where you can just tel it's going to explode into a nice, head-banging groove ... except it doesn't. The song is stuck in first gear, as Uncle Jeff pines for the days of yore, when families ate dinner together and then gathered around the Victrola in the parlor. Or some damn thing. I'm being a smartass here, sort of, and there's a point to be made about society's overreliance on technology having some disturbing side-effects. But "MP3" is just a bad way to start off a record, and unfortunately, it sets the tone both thematically and musically.
It's not so much that Simplicity is a slow record. You could see that coming, as Tesla's albums have been steadily decelerating since 1994's Bust A Nut, and as the band has frequently shown throughout its career, slow can be very, very good. Here, however, slow proves more often to be one big bore. That's partly Jeff Keith's fault, as he croaks out lyrics that are often as predictable as a Hallmark card, one painful syllable at a time. A good example is the album's second track, 'Ricochet," where, after another slow-building intro, we finally get that fist-pumping riff we waited for through the entire first song. And then the vocals start. I'll give you the first line, you fill in the blanks:
"Me and the boys've got a rock 'n' roll band From town to town, playin' __________
So call your friends and get down to the show
The crew got it ready for __________
Rollin' down the tracks on a runaway train
Movin' so fast, enough to __________
So here we are, we're back again
With a brand-new record all ready to __________
We love our fans, wanna make 'em proud
So start that amp and __________
Seriously, what's supposed to be a fun crowd-pleaser ends up coming off totally pandering and embarrassing, and this is the case with most of the handful of uptempo tracks on the album. Want to play another round? Try these, from the fot-stomping, slide-guitar-laced "Flip Side!":
My mama always told me since the day I was born
She said "we're all right, it's the world that's __________"
So now I'm thinkin' I wanna __________
I wrote down the words so everyone can __________
Having fun yet? Even when the songs are pleasing to the ear, the lyrics make you feel dumber for listening. Like on "Cross My Heart," a cool boogie (at half-speed, but still) spiced up with honky-tonk piano. And then Jeff starts warbling, reassuring his chick he's not fucking around on the road. AAAAWWWWWW!
I'm trying to be fair about the whole thing. And Simplicity does have its moments. "So Divine..." is a nice semi-ballad, always one of the band's stronger suits, with Stryper-y is-he-singing-about-Jesus lyrics. "Break Of Dawn" is a more successful rehash of "Ricichet" with a heavy grind. "Other Than Me" and "Burnout To Fade" are good, melancholy songs, but after a while, and crammed in with similar songs like "Honestly" and "Life Is A River," the whole heart-on-sleeve trip gets tiresome. I mean, how many more times do we need to hear Jeff Keith remind us that he's just a simple man doing the best he can, reflecting on his checkered past?
There's one more heavy song, in the form of "Time Bomb." The lyrics to this one seem like an attempt at a new Tea Party sing-along, complete with a call to "load up your guns" that I'm sure is figurative. It's a different kind of rallying cry from past power-to-the-people numbers like "Solution" or "Action Talks." But still, and not before Jeff fakes an orgasm halfway through, Frank Hannon and Dave "The New Guy" Rude rip it up to end the song, "Cumin' Atcha Live"-style. And then it's more "circle time" with the album closer "'Til That Day," Tesla On Parenting, with piano accompaniment, and Jeff doing that godawful voice-cracking-on-purpose thing he does now.
PITRIFF RATING - 60/100 – Look, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge Tesla fan, and have been since the Great Radio Controversy days as a kid. Their music has been a big part of my life, good and bad. Maybe I hold them to a higher standard than I do other bands because of that, but I find myself increasingly disappointed with, and disinterested in, the new-millennium incarnation of the band. The last great thing these guys produced, either as a group or on their own, was Jeff Keith and Tommy Skeoch's Bar 7 project, circa 2000. Like the previous two albums, Simplicity has its good points, but you have to ignore more and more cringe-worthy lyrics to enjoy them, plus deal with Jeff's smoke- and coke-ravaged voice. Even then, the best songs here still aren't as good as the worst ones on Bust A Nut, or any of the band's pre-breakup albums. And yes, there's the tempo issue. It's one downcast trudge of a release for the most part. They could have gotten a cheap five or ten more points from me by including last year's single "Taste My Pain" which showed some real piss and vinegar. As it stands, I feel like all the glowing accolades I see this disc receiving are more because people have such respect and reverence for the name Tesla, and not so much because it's such a great listen. It's not. Sorry.