Tesla: Mechanical Resonance Album Of The Week Club review

Mechanical Resonance: the debut album by Tesla, the band formerly known as City Kidd, the band formerly known an Earthshaker

Tesla: Mechanical Resonance
(Image: © Geffen)

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Tesla: Mechanical Resonance

Tesla: Mechanical Resonance

(Image credit: Geffen)

EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin' Atcha Live
Gettin' Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We're No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes

Brian Wheat was playing bass with a garage group called Rage when, in 1982, he heard whispers of a hotshot local guitarist called Frank Hannon. Despite being three years younger than 18-year-old Wheat, Hannon was invited along to jam. “I thought Frank had been touched by God,” Wheat enthuses. “So everybody got fired and we started a whole new band.”

Adopting the name Earthshaker – after an album by fellow Californian hard rockers Y&T – Hannon and Wheat began dusting down and working up an early repertoire of UFODef Leppard and Scorpions covers. Along with guitarist Tommy Skeoch (who was poached from a rival group) and singer Jeff Keith, Earthshaker evolved into City Kidd. 

City Kidd would play the Oasis Ballroom in Sacramento many times, but it was a three-month booking at a US Army base on the Pacific island of Guam that really knocked them into shape. The band wrote Cumin’ Atcha Live and other songs that would appear on their first album, while they played five sets a night for the troops.

Great White singer Jack Russell, who’d seen the quintet open for his band, told Tom Zutaut (the talent scout who’d signed Motley Crue and would later follow suit with Guns N’ Roses, among many others) of “these incredible young kids from Sacramento”. 

Zutaut saw the band live, and after a pep talk – they were instructed to stop striving for hits and write from the balls instead – promised them a recording contract if they’d wait until mid-1985 when he took up a new position at Geffen Records.

But despite signing a new deal with Q Prime, the heavyweight management company that represented Def Leppard, Metallica and Queensrÿche, City Kidd struggled to find a producer for their album. “Rick Rubin, Max Norman, Peter Collins and Bruce Fairbairn all didn’t like us,” said the puzzled Wheat. So there was an element of desperation when Zutaut brought Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero (a duo who’d worked in dance music; they would end up mixing GN’R’s Appetite For Destruction) to a live show.

“Even they tried to weasel out,” said a disbelieving Zutaut. “But I managed to convince them that this was a band that would sell a million records.”

Boosted by prime support slots with the newly solo David Lee Roth and then Alice Cooper, and aided by having a minor hit with Modern Day Cowboy, that’s exactly what happened. And by the time they released the Mechanical Resonance album in mid-1986, City Kidd had changed their name to Tesla.

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Other albums released in December 1986

  • Live Magic - Queen
  • Anything - The Damned
  • Good Music - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  • Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide - Guns N' Roses
  • Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Venom
  • What Do You Know, Deutschland? - KMFDM

What they said...

"Tesla’s debut album is a must for all US hard rock fans. With a line-up of Geoff Keith (vocals), Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch (guitars), Brian Wheat (bass) and Troy Luccketta (drums), the band have copped a Van Halen riff or three and whisked it up with such diverse influences as Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Free and maybe even Ratt to produce, believe me, one of this year’s best releases and an album that’s being raved about in high places!" (Metal Forces)

"Tesla takes a decidedly heavy-metal approach to its material. Mostly it's the showy twin-guitar attack of Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon that keeps the band from sounding overly polite. Fast and flashy, it's perfect post-Van Halen ear candy, offering little content but plenty of excitement. Unfortunately, like many bands fresh from the bar circuit, Tesla still seems wedded to the sort of mannerisms demanded of cover bands." (Rolling Stone)

"While their jeans-and-T-shirts getups made Tesla the regular Joe’s of the hair-metal era, this album was anything but average. Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon were a formidable duo who graduated with honours from the Thin Lizzy school of duelling guitars. Tesla produced a series of high quality albums, but this, their debut, displays a combination of spontaneity and attention to detail that sets it above the rest of the band’s output." (Guitar World)

What you said...

Alex Hayes: Wow. In my mind's eye it's sometime in the late 80's again and I'm up in my teenage bedroom listening to a vinyl copy of this on my headphones. The walls are covered in posters of my favourite bands and a Van Halen Why Can't This Be Love picture disc sits atop one of my stereo speakers. It was Kerrang! magazine that directed me towards Tesla, albeit during the Great Radio Controversy period a couple of years after the release of this debut album. Remember when that mag was actually worth reading?

The narrative that surrounded Tesla back then was that they were more than just a run of the mill 'hair metal' band. Although largely true, that distinction just doesn't seem as important with hindsight. This is most definitely an album of it's time, boasting some very 80s production values. Please don't misread that as criticism though as this music has stood the test of time extremely well. I found side two to be particularly strong with tracks like Changes, Modern Day Cowboy and Before My Eyes standing out.

Sadly for me, the 90s were just around the corner. Suddenly, Kerrang! was full of bands that I couldn't have cared less about and groups like this were in serious decline. Tesla ended up falling off my radar and this has been my first full listen to Mechanical Resonance in donkeys years. It's an album that compares favourably to any of that period, represents said era well and is definitely recommended. Right then, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to give Skyscraper and Once Bitten... a spin.

Iain Macaulay: I didn’t listen to this band when they came out. Listening now, I quite enjoyed both run throughs I’ve had so far. There are some nice song ideas, some great musicianship and great production. However, I couldn’t remember the songs after the album finished. Whether that means I should listen more or leave it alone I can’t tell.

Chris Downie: There is a prevailing argument that in rock and metal's 1980's commercial peak, even the most mediocre bands could rack up platinum level sales, sold-out tours and MTV stardom. Whatever the merits of this argument (and there are some, given the depletion of the ozone layer at the time, such was the predominance of run of the mill 'hair metal' bands) there were also many who, despite having all the ingredients for huge success, remained in the second tier. Tesla are one such band whom, despite the close ties with Def Leppard and a string of platinum albums, remain one of the most underrated of their time.

Musically closer to the classic hard rock swagger of Zeppelin and Aerosmith than the likes of Motley Crue and Poison, their style was more along the lines of where their tour mates Def Leppard could have gone if they had continued in the pre-Hysteria vein. While the band are best known for hits such as Modern Day Cowboy and the excellent Edison's Medicine, their album cuts were just as invigorating and it is a mark of true songcraft that they maintained such consistency over several albums.

While they would arguably go on to make better albums than this (Psychotic Supper would be this writer's pick) Mechanical Resonance is a fine debut which stands the test of time very well and perhaps the saddest part of their history is that, despite standing apart from the hairspray and Spandex brigade, they succumbed to the grunge era just as they were at the peak of their powers (the aforementioned Psychotic Supper in 1991) and had the potential to go on to bigger things.

Leonard Hoggan: I hadn't listened to this in a while so it was good to find that the vast majority of it hasn't dated - it wasn't over produced so it still sounds great. And I still have my tshirt from the tour when they supported (and, IMO, blew away) Def Leppard.

Gary Claydon: Tesla are one of those bands I think I should like a lot more than I actually do. It's not that I dislike them. They are a fine band. Plus, they tick a lot of boxes for me. Good vocalist, excellent lead guitarist, twin guitars and very good live. Even the name (I believe they ditched City Kidd to become Tesla, wise move fellas) as I've been fascinated by Nikola Tesla ever since I read something about him as a schoolboy. But, for whatever reason, they have never quite done it for me.

Mechanical Resonance isn't my favourite Tesla album, that would be Psychotic Supper (Edison's Medicine my favourite track) but it's a decent, rock solid debut. Opener Ez Come Ez Go (ain't that a classic 80s metal song title!) reminds me of Coney Hatch (no bad thing) while the excellent Cumin' Atcha Live echoes Van Halen. 

And there's the thing. I can never figure out what Tesla's 'sound' is. They often seem to remind me of somebody else and that particularly applies to their debut effort. There are nods to the likes of Boston, Journey, Motley Crew, Uriah Heep and, unfortunately, The Mutt Lange Band, sorry, Def Leppard, plus a few more. I've absolutely no problem with bands showing their influences but, as I said, I've often found it difficult to identify the definitive Tesla 'sound'. Still, there is some good, if not quite outstanding stuff here.

I'd score Mechanical Resonance 6.5 / 10, but seeing as it's Xmas I'll round it up rather than down, so a solid 7.

Michael Kay: Mechanical Resonance is a solid hard rock album by a solid hard rock band. While I think their songwriting improved over the next two studio albums, the musicianship and cohesiveness as a band are already evident. The crisp and clean production packs plenty of sonic wallop too.

Still love the radio hits Little Suzi and Modern Day Cowboy. New favourites include Rock Me To The Top and 2 Late 4 Love (the first lyric is so 2020!). Love the electric guitar braggadocio that licks off Cumin' Atcha Live and the acoustic guitar braggadocio that welcomes in Little Suzi. We're No Good Together and Changes have more mature sentiments compared to the usual power ballads and Before My Eyes is a moody epic closer.

As others have written, the nineties hit Tesla as hard as any hard rock band. But they rebounded and are still a solid live act. With one exception, they are still touring with their classic lineup after 30+ years. No mean feat, that.

Jacob Tannehill: Well well well. An album right in my wheelhouse. Probably one of the best debut albums ever. Tesla definitely was not a manufactured band. These guys were lumped in to “hair metal” because there were five guys who played hard rock really well. But they didn’t look like the guys in Poison and Cinderella. I wore out a couple cassettes of this album. The hits are outstanding. Modern Day Cowboy, Getting Better, and Little Suzi are classics.

But man the deep tracks are even better. We’re No Good Together is stunning and soulful. Tommy and Frank’s soloing at the end are killer. Changes holds your attention the whole time. You wouldn’t catch Poison trying to play tune like that. Ez Come Ez Go into Comin’ Atcha Live are a 1-2 punch to open the album. Absolutely killer playing.

I would say this album is two songs too long. The last two songs – Cover Queen and Before My Eyes – I can probably do without.

Paul De Maria Mañas: One of the best debuts in the 80s and the start of one of the best studio trilogies. Class songs, playing and singing.

Brian Frankland: Pure rock at its finest. Still their best. Frank and Tommy are one of the best guitar duos of all time. This album is why I always see them when they are performing anywhere near me. A workin’ man’s band.

Jonathan Novajosky: An inherent risk with a lot of these 80s bands is that all their songs are going to sound too similar. I didn't find that to be the case with Tesla and Mechanical Resonance. My expierience with Tesla is pretty limited, but I was really impressed with the album, especially the second half. Modern Day Cowboy, Changes, and Little Suzi were clear standouts, particularly the latter two. The variety between those three songs proves that Tesla wasn't your typical 80s metal band. 8/10

John Davidson: I’d never heard this album before and was slightly worried (just from the timing of the release) that this might be poodle rock or hair metal, but this is straight out of the traps a proper hard driven rock'n'roll record.

Other than a touch of keyboards/synths on the heavy ballads We’re No Good Together and Changes this is straight up guitar rock through and through. It sounds like a combination of Scorpions, Def Leppard and AC/DC with a snort of Aerosmith thrown in for good measure.

Other than that, there’s not much to say – the compositions are good (if a shade unoriginal in places) but the vocals are spot on, the guitars crunch & squeal very nicely and the rhythm section are tight and powerful.

Altogether this was a thoroughly enjoyable listen and one that I will be adding to my collection.

There really isn’t a duff track on the album and it gets a 9/10 from me, losing the one point in part because it isn’t ground-breaking but also as I need to leave room for the Physical Graffitis and Moving Pictures of this world.

Laurent Biehly: One of the greatest debut album ever. They were very unique, and still are. Tesla and Mr. Big were both superb at modernising and mixing blues and hard rock without falling into the Led Zep clones category.

Brian Hart: In my opinion, this album should be in the top 20 – maybe top 10 – best debut albums. This album has everything. Tons of hard rocking songs. Comin Atcha Live is a killer tune. It has great mid tempo songs like Little Suzi and Gettin Better. And the ballads are cool and different. I’d put it up there with Appetite for Destruction, Boston, VH1, and Pearl Jam’s 10.

Brian Carr: In late 1986/early 1987, my 14-year-old self was spending most of my spare cash on cassettes. MTV introduced me to a lot of artists, and when they started airing Modern Day Cowboy from a new band named Tesla (what’s a Tesla? I sure didn’t know then), it was enough to make me go out and buy the full length release off of one song. Man, was I glad I did. 

Mechanical Resonance is an absolute every track album for me. Great vocals, rocking hooks and fantastic guitar playing, I was happy to be in on Tesla from the beginning. I didn’t go through my Apple Music library to verify, but I think Mechanical Resonance might be my personal favourite debut from any artist.

I was also lucky in the fact that they were road dogs, because I’ve had the opportunity to see them several times live, first in October of 1987 opening for Def Leppard to, most recently, April of 2017 as they were celebrating 30 years. They’ve always kicked ass live.

For some unknown reason, I haven’t listened to Tesla’s debut in quite some time. It’s been excellent seeing the positive comments from the Club members. Thank you, Classic Rock, for choosing another one of my suggestions, and getting me to revisit a favourite.

Darren Fried: It was January 15, 1987 and I was 14 years old. I took the No. 1 train from the Bronx down to Port Authority in Times Square and from there I hopped on a bus to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. A small sign on the front door informed everyone that instead of Andy Taylor (ex-Duran Duran), the opening act for David Lee Roth would be Tesla. Never heard of ‘em.

When the lights went down 20 minutes later and Tesla hit the stage I had no idea what to expect. It turned out…they were incredible. Great songs that were immediately recognisable with hooks and power. Great playing, high energy and fantastic raspy rock n roll vocals from Jeff Keith. It was a big change as so many opening acts from the prior year or two were mediocre and/or forgettable – Black N Blue, Y&T, Loudness, Girlschool. I bought the record the next day and quickly became a fan.

Now, almost 35 years later, how does Mechanical Resonance hold up? Well… it’s a lot cheesier than I remembered! Conventional wisdom says that Tesla was pure rock'n'roll and less glam than the other bands from that time. And while it’s true that their image was just jeans and t-shirts (and that lack of image and charisma probably hurt them in the long run), the songs and the performances are mostly mid 80’s hard rock.

What distinguishes them is the excellently dry production by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero. There’s no load of heavy reverb and wet vocals. Everything is tight and compact and sonically doesn’t sound dated. But if you were trying to convince someone that Tesla is a classic rock band and not an 80s band, you might have a hard time doing so if you just listen to the music. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff going on and in no way is it a generic pop metal band. It’s enjoyable and showed a lot of potential but it’s still pretty dated - again, not the production but the songs and the performances. Still worth a spin for sure. 6.5/10

Marco LG: I discovered Tesla in 1989, at the time they released their sophomore album, The Great Radio Controversy, which remains to this day one of my favourite albums of all time. The relationship between Tesla and Def Leppard didn’t become clear to me until their 1991 album, Psychotic Supper, where they dedicated the track Song And Emotion to the memory of Steve Clark. Even so, I always considered the two bands to be very different: Tesla always took a little longer to get under my skin, and they did so with their unusual sensibility, while Def Leppard always hit hard with the big choruses. It would be really unfair if a reader of this week’s reviews was to be given the impression Tesla were clones of Def Leppard.

The pick of this week is their debut, Mechanical Resonance, but it is perhaps worth remembering that by the time Tesla came to record this they had been around for five years. The twelve songs on this album showcase a band very comfortable together, with twin guitar action and some awesome bass lines in evidence. The voice of Jeff Keith is not the most powerful, but the singer is really good at expressing a whole range of emotions. Arguably Mechanical Resonance doesn’t contain any weak songs, but for me the second half of the album is the strongest: it opens with an electrifying rocker, Modern Day Cowboy, and it closes with a splendid semi-ballad, Before My Eyes.

In 1990 Tesla dropped a new album unexpectedly (at least for me): it was an acoustic live album, Five Men Acoustical Jam, and it became a landmark, opening the floodgates for countless others, including the strip of MTV unplugged series. On there the quick succession of Gettin’ Better and Before My Eyes was one of the highlights, giving these songs a new depth that maybe listening to just their original, plugged in versions wasn’t immediately obvious.

All Tesla albums up until their mid-90s effort, Bust A Nut, sold very well: they are all certified Platinum in the US and Gold in Canada. However, like many others, Tesla capitulated under the weight of grunge, and disbanded in 1996. They came back in 2001, and are still going strong today, being among the few bands in history to have maintained a stable lineup for the most part of their career. The only exception being Guitarist Tommy Skeoch, who left the band a couple of times in the 90s before doing so permanently in 2006.

The relationship with Def Leppard came full circle last year, in 2019, with the release of Shock, produced by Phil Collen. Unfortunately the experiment didn’t quite work for me, mainly because it made Tesla sounding like clones for the first time in their career. Having said that, I would encourage anyone to listen to their entire discography and fall in love with this hard working jeans and T-shirt band.

In short: Mechanical Resonance is a marvellous debut by a magnificent band. It’s a great place to start exploring an almost flawless discography and will get a 9 out 10 from me.

Final Score: 8.01⁄10 (212 votes cast, with a total score of 1698)

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