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Kind of an overlooked album, this one. ‘Transistor’ is a less obvious nod toward ‘90s hard rock values, because they’d already explored that on ‘Firefly,’ and here they simply move ahead – something TNT are very good at -- using the previous album as its platform. ‘Transistor’ seems more comfortable in its ‘90s skin than ‘Firefly,’ while also bringing back the exuberance of past albums like ‘Tell No Tales’ and ‘Intuition.’ It’s an interesting one, because it can both be considered a companion to ‘Firefly,’ but also nods to the earlier TNT vibe that they largely left behind on ‘Firefly.’ Ultimately, ‘Transistor’ is a very good album, and one that should most definitely NOT be overlooked by any fan of this special band.
There’s more energy on ‘Transistor’ than its often furrow-browed predecessor, and the recording is brighter. The album credits yet another new drummer (Frode Lamoy), but there's still some gray area between real and programmed drums, with “Into Pieces” totally immersed in the fake stuff. It's clearly an album of the ‘90s, if less harnessed to the times than ‘Firefly’ was. I love the hell out of ‘Firefly,’ it is a unique and important part of the TNT discography, but sometimes 'Transistor' is my go-to ‘90s-era TNT album, depending on mood.
The album begins strong and ends weak. The opening four-song shot of “Just Like God,” “Wide Awake,” “No Such Thing” and “Crashing Down” offers loads of sumptuous vocal harmonies, wild guitar antics and memorable songwriting to chew on, and they comprise the strongest string of four songs the band had offered since ‘Tell No Tales.’ Middle of the album gets balladic and poppy, respectively, with the gentle “Fantasia Espanola” and the colorful, undeniably catchy “Because I Love You.”
The album then weaves in and out of its back half, wrapping underwhelming songs within some excellent moments. “The Whole You’re Inn” (awful and nonsensical wordplay), “Mousetrap” and “No Guarantees” are fairly stripped down and raunchy, by TNT standards. The first two could have appeared on ‘Realized Fantasies,’ while “No Guarantees” finds TNT unconvincing in their near-punk rock attempt to end the album with a blast -- for me it’s just one of the most unappealing Harnell-era TNT songs. But the two songs before it prop up the album's back half. “Into Pieces” could have been on ‘Firefly,’ and as mentioned is propelled by a danceable drum-machine rhythm, and succeeds mostly thanks to Harnell’s impassioned performance and the layers of female backing vocals in the chorus. “Under My Pillow” matches a seriously emotional Harnell with the female voice of one M.B. Normann, and though it wouldn’t impress macho metal aggro types, TNT isn’t that kind of band and this ain’t that kind of song. For what it is, it’s excellent, and would have ended the album on an interestingly gentle note. And that would have been appropriate, as there’s plenty of raucous, high-energy, bright-as-the-sun TNT on offer throughout ‘Transistor.’
TNT were one of few rare hard rock/melodic metal bands who navigated that tough ‘90s alternative rock climate by neither totally ignoring it nor totally giving in to it. They evolved naturally and move forward confidently, despite conditions that weren’t exactly friendly to bands of their ilk. Their next album, which would arrive 5 years later, was very much a last laugh, and a masterpiece worth waiting for...