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How Tesla Pushed Back Against Grunge With ‘Bust a Nut’

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When Tesla released its fourth studio album Bust a Nut on Aug. 23, 1994, no jokey title could disguise the fact that they were fighting for their very survival. At the time, the California band was — like so many of their hair metal peers — helplessly caught in grunge’s cross-hairs.

It didn’t matter that Tesla’s hometown of Sacramento taught them plenty about economic hardship and working class values. It also made no difference that Tesla’s first two albums (1987’s Mechanical Resonance and ’89’s hit-driven The Great Radio Controversy) had become successful due to the combination of classic rock-rooted musical intelligence and radio-friendly glossy production. Touring with Def Leppard also helped.

Nevertheless, that intelligence came into tighter focus on 1991’s more substantial Psychotic Supper — to say nothing of the previous year’s Five Man Acoustical Jam, which neatly presupposed the whole unplugged craze. Tesla then expanded these earthier songwriting elements on Bust a Nut, as shown by such highlights as the cathartic “Shine Away,” the laid-back “Try So Hard,” the infectious “Need Your Lovin’,” and the thoroughly classic “Mama’s Fool.”

They were, of course, defending an increasingly lost cause against the tides of changing musical fashions and, to an even greater degree, consumer perceptions. Yet, despite this uncooperative climate, Bust a Nut still climbed as high as No. 20 on the Billboard 200 — thanks, in no small way, to the band’s persistent touring back-and-forth across America. The album eventually ground its way to a gold certification.

Sure, every one of its predecessors had gone platinum but, given the extenuating circumstances, this was still a small victory for both the boys in Tesla and the fans who stuck by them. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. Before too long, Tesla had been unceremoniously dropped by the once entirely supportive Geffen Records.

To their credit, after weathering the fallout with a slew of solo efforts and side projects, the men of Tesla — singer Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta — returned to action via 2004’s aptly named Into the Now. They’ve have been going strong ever since, with Simplicity released in 2014.

See the Top 100 Albums of the ’90s

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