by Julio Diaz
The Best of Tesla
The big question, then: WHY?
First, the facts. One, The Scorpions having discovered Nine Inch Nails two years ago (Eye To Eye) and consequently going in a more “experimental” direction (Dio kinda did the same on 1996’s Angry Machines), their The Best of Scorpions — 20th Century Masters, The Millenium Collection is something of a “look back wistfully with a can of Schlitz in hand” timepiece of an era long gone but not forgotten. Two, Tesla’s recently reformed and gigging again, so their The Best of Tesla counterpart is a timely reminder why they never really mattered in the first place. Three, “best of” albums are of a highly dubious nature, being that selecting a band’s finest moments is a largely subjective endeavor, so band-in-question’s most familiar songs are chosen to both appease armchair fans and fluster cynical critics. Four, as such, these best-of collections mostly serve to reel in the fair-weather Wal-Mart shopper and similarly cause considerable consternation among diehard/died-away listeners who’d be more than willing to offer their respective “best of” lists.
Which brings us to The Scorpions. To fully and accurately put into perspective the musical and social importance of this influential bunch of Germans would require a grad-level thesis paper, so we’ll dwell on their The Best of Scorpions for the time being, but let’s get this much straight: aside from their occasionally stunted English grammar (choicest: “Loving You Sunday Morning,” “Big City Nights,” both of which are contained here, and — egad! — “We Let It Rock…You Let It Roll”), The Scorpions were no joke. Predictably, the 12-song The Best Of focuses on their furtive ’80s days with Mercury and the consequent hits, of which they had many: “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” the aforementioned “Big City Nights,” “Still Loving You,” “Believe In Love,” and “Wind Of Change,” among some lesser ones (sales-wise, that is). Thing is, the hard rockers of their hits (see the first three) rank among the band’s best work, as good — if not better, in some cases — as any album-only material, and hardly the crass chart-calculations some knobs insist those singles otherwise are. But if The Scorps — and, more specifically, The Best of Scorpions — could be raked over the coals for anything, it’d be the ubiquitous Power Ballad, that much-maligned, tear-jerking idiom cum faux-genre to rope in the chicks and make the dudes feel all sensitive. Somewhere, it all went WRONG — as if titles like “Still Loving You” and “Believe In Love” didn’t tip you off enough. What started out as a nice dynamic breather for mainstream metal in the 1980s quickly degenerated into the canon fodder of critics and other souls anti-metallic, quasi-political stinker “Wind Of Change” driving the point home ever so painfully (a whistle solo?!). Elsewhere on The Best Of, we’re reminded that The Scorps’ clout waned in the late ’80s, as evidenced by dumbo clunkers “Tease Me Please Me,” “Rhythm Of Love,” and their one-balled cover of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” — for shame. So, when you factor in the slightly more exhaustive, yet nearly identical The Best of Rockers and Ballads (really, who comes up with these titles?), there’s just no excuse nor use for this 20th Century Masters Collection. Anyway, any headbanger worth his salt already owns the originals — time to dust off the vinyl of Animal Magnetism and Taken By Force instead.
And Tesla? Another story altogether. The liner notes (written by Gerri Miller, who also penned those of the above Scorpions collection) of their The Best of Tesla goes through great pains to assert that Tesla were a bunch of blue-collar saviors plying the blues-metal trade, foregoing sales in favor of honesty and integrity, image for true-blue-to-you rockin’. Well, they were/are undeniably blue collar, for better or worse, but somehow “unique” in the blues-based pool of hard rock and lite metal? Not really: anyone remember Sea Hags, Tattoo Rodeo, Dangerous Toys, Junkyard, Little Caesar, Hangmen, Johnny Crash, or fuckin’ Great White (arguably, the best of this bunch), all of which staked greater claims for legitimacy, or at the very least, elan? And while we’re engaged in a “who made who” (“you made you!”) discourse, lest we not forget the post-Dolls/Aerosmith Hollyrock sleaze of Hanoi Rocks, GN’R, L.A. Guns, or even the Crue, such grandstanding being close spiritual kin of Tesla and their overlooked contemporaries. If memory serves me right — after all, it was back in elementary school when I last heard their Mechanical Resonance debut and The Great Radio Controversy follow-up, mind you — nothing really stood out on Tesla’s albums aside from their “hits” — “Hang Tough,” “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out),” “Love Song,” and “Signs” — their compositions overlong and sorely frill-free, so they’ll probably only be remembered for their saptastic wimp-fest “Love Song” and the shaggy acoustic cover of the Five Man Electrical Band’s dopey “Signs.” Oh, yeah — and for being so shamelessly blue collar, but there’s a market for such, or so I’m told. Much like Poison’s Greatest Hits 1986-1996, Tesla’s The Best Of is one of those preciously few/rare “need this, and nothing more” best-of collections, one that’s neither a contract-fulfilling toss-off (Silverchair’s The Best of Silverchair Vol. 1) nor a “why bother?” one (Warrant’s Rocking Tall).
Essential, then? Come, now — that’s not a rhetorical question.
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