CD Review: Tesla – Simplicity

CD Review: Tesla – Simplicity
Tesla Electric Company Recording
All Access Rating: A-

Tesla - Simplicity 2014
Don't tell Tesla that technology has made our lives better. What's so great about it anyway? It's only brought more complications and increased anxiety, not to mention inferior "MP3" digital recordings, embraced for their convenience but reviled for their sonic limitations. 

It seems Tesla, then, wasn't made for these times. Then again, their brand of honest and earthy songwriting, informed by the '70s classic rock of Montrose and Humble Pie, seemed almost completely out of touch with the glamorous, roaring '80s, and they sold records by the truckloads if memory serves.

Doggedly forging ahead in this social-media driven age, the Tesla of 2014 longs for Simplicity, which is not only the title of their latest album but also the word that best defines the straightforward, no-holds-barred sound of these scruffy, hard-rock mutts. Speaking the unvarnished truth of rock 'n' roll, with grit and big-hearted melodies, the well-crafted Simplicity is a heady distillation of all those raw elements that have made Tesla so beloved, as solid hooks and rugged grooves emerge from a rough mix of tastefully executed electric and acoustic guitar interplay to make the crunching, ballsy hard rock of "Ricochet" and "Break of Dawn." Just as spirited and even more timeless are rustic, emotionally spent power ballads, such as the soaring "So Divine ..." and the cathartic "Honestly," that, in Tesla's capable hands, manage to avoid the honey trap of being too saccharine or overly sentimental. The scratched-up, wildcat vocals of Jeff Keith make sure that never happens.

On Simplicity, though, Tesla speaks its mind in songs that have real teeth and jaws of steel. Taking on a world overrun by computer devices and their bastard offspring, "MP3" is the stomping opening track, and it's a gnarly, defiant Luddite's lament that wants its phonograph back and despite its sneering guitars, is slow to anger, pretty string arrangements lending their righteous argument heightened drama. In similar fashion, the creeping "Rise and Fall" gradually develops, its grungy churn warning of trouble ahead.

Above all, however, what really sparkles on Simplicity is "Cross My Heart," a charming, sun-dappled Southern rock ditty reminiscent of both The Faces and The Black Crowes, with golden acoustic shine and beautiful, rambling piano courtesy of a multi-instrumentalist marvel in guitarist Frank Hannon. Due out June 10, there's nothing fussy or pretentious about Simplicity. It is what the title says it is. What's in a name? When it comes to Tesla, it's everything.  
– Peter Lindblad

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