Tesla are the Californian band Nikki Sixx once memorably described as resembling “a bunch of tomato farmers from Sacramento”. However, while Sixx and the rest of Mötley Crüe spent their formative years grappling with the intricacies of rouge and blusher, the fledgling Tesla — then known as City Kidd — were taken under the wing of guitar legend Ronnie Montrose, who helped them to mould an appreciation of dynamics, light and shade and, above all, songcraft.
Just like the Crüe, Tesla were signed by Tom Zutaut, the A&R man also responsible for getting Guns N’ Roses to sign on the dotted line to Geffen. The quintet’s 1986 album Mechanic Resonance was a masterful introductory statement produced by the then red-hot duo of Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero. It sold a million copies, though this was small fry compared to what would follow.
For their seventh studio album of original material, the band had announced an intention to reunite with Steve Thompson (who is no longer a team with Barbiero). In reality, Simplicity was overseen by Tesla in conjunction with Zutaut – a shock given an abrupt severing of ties with the man that was managing them circa 2007’s Classic Rock-released covers album Real To Reel. “Aaah, all of that [animosity] died down within six months,” shrugs bass player Brian ‘Shredded’ Wheat during a flying visit to London. “And Steve Thompson? We’d still like to work with him again in the future”.
Beginning with the sound of a needle being dropped onto plastic, Simplicity taps into the very essence of Tesla. Call them a band out of time if you must – they really won’t give a damn. It continues to channel their love of the 1970s greats – Thin Lizzy, UFO, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Montrose and many more – but with an added twist that’s all their own.
Alluding to the record’s title, its opening track, MP3, is a slow, groovy monster. Singer Jeff Keith lambasts technology, bemoaning the path “from the phonograph record to the MP3” whilst declaring: “We gotta get back to simplicity.” Keith has confirmed that the lines of “Reaching out to a friend in need/Means more than a text on a cellphone screen” pertain to declining family values, hence the roared command of: “Rewind now!”
Containing 14 songs and with a running time of around an hour, Simplicity is a raw-sounding album that’s more attuned to Tesla’s earliest releases than the polished approach employed by Terry Thomas (Bad Company/Giant/Foreigner) on their previous record, 2008’s Forever More. Among its many highlights is Life In A River, a typically majestic Tesla ballad. Sung brilliantly by Keith, along with Honestly and the Beatles-influenced Other Than Me it complements the colourful rock ‘n’ roll of Ricochet, Break Of Dawn, Time Bomb and So Divine.
In later years, as the importance of way the band looked declined, Nikki Sixx became a Tesla fan. You will, too…
Simplicity is released via Frontiers Records in Europe on June 6. Tesla play the Download Festival on June 13, warming up at London’s Islington Academy 24 hours earlier.