Review Summary: Here we go, on with the show...
How many bands can you name from the 80's hard rock/hair metal heyday that have still endured throughout the 90's and 2000's as well? There really aren't a whole lot of them; Bon Jovi barely survived the 90's and underwent a horrifying country makeover on Lost Highway to attempt a "modernization" of their sound, Dokken is finally gaining steam from their dark period in the 90's, Motley Crue are barely heard from these days, etc. The times changed, only a few hairborne (bad pun, sorry) acts truly bounced back.
Tesla happen to be in the rare 1% case of getting even more popular years after their initial heyday. Back in the late 80's, the band were known for eschewing the whole "glam" fad, and thus were not received as warmly as the bands on the Sunset Strip. Much like Whitesnake (see: Slip of the Tongue review), Tesla were more bluesy and had a certain heaviness that put them snugly between Bon Jovi (early-era, mind you) and Scorpions. With that said, albums like 1986's Mechanical Resonance and 1989's The Great Radio Controversy were actually quite well-received for not following the trendy 80's hard rock, but obviously this methodology backfired as sales suffered. So after two more decently received albums, it was thought that Tesla would call it quits. 2004's Into the Now came around as a surprise sleeper hit, high on the Billboard 200 and yielding multiple radio hits. However, is it any good? For lack of better words, it is pretty fantastic.
First off, the band sound totally reinvigorated; in terms of energy and focus, there's a sense of renewal in the ten years between this album and 1994's Bust a Nut. The most notable differences are twofold here: first is the change in Jeff Keith's voice, opting for a more gruff blues style than the high wailing voice he used on the 80's and 90's records. Here, he sounds more like Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler mixed with occasional hints of former Accept frontman Udo Dirkschneider (yes, that's actually his name). The other difference is in the musical style itself; the metallic side takes an extremely groove metal-inspired path, while the ballads are exceptionally heartfelt and personal compared to previous albums. Jeff Keith fits within both styles almost flawlessly, switching with extreme ease. A great example is the power ballad "Heaven Nine Eleven," in which he builds up his vocals effectively over alternating guitar segments between acoustic chords and all-out distortion.
While the popular title track is a very strong opener, there are plenty of underrated gems in this record all the same. Ballads like "Only You" and "What a Shame" show a soft melancholic side rarely expressed so well in Tesla's discography, while tunes like the heavy-as-hell "Mighty Mouse" and "Got No Glory" (which starts oddly enough, with what can almost be considered a metalcore scream), show that the band haven't run out of energy yet and are perhaps even stronger than ever. Every member shows off his musical chops well without showing off, and the whole experience feels nicely balanced. Even the solos come off as more expressive than flashy, which is quite rare for their genre or initial era.
The lyrics also impress, touching on subjects of love, morals (not in a preachy way), philosophy, heaven and hell, and life in general. Instead of rehashing old dated lyricism, the poetry here is quite thought-provoking and well-delivered all the same. The musicians are great at switching styles in accordance to what lyrics are on offer too, drums building up for emotional climaxes and guitars toning down or increasing distortion for whenever either's called for.
Unfortunately, there are a few patchy spots in the middle. With "Miles Away," while possessing a great first half, the sludgy riff drags a little during the second half as the chorus is repeated and the solo tries to drive it along. "Look @ Me" is a little uninspired after powerful initial statement like the title track, and despite "Only You" being a great ballad, its placement as the last track leaves a bit of a depressing and slightly awkward note to end it on. Either way, Into the Now is extremely well-done despite the flaws along the way. It's a very fun and emotional gem of modern rock/metal, and is well worth a good listen.