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Falling into melancholic days, indeed - 24%

GOOFAM, September 10th, 2017

Along with Firefly, Transistor is part of a period where TNT, formerly a high-quality glam metal band from 1984-1992, changed their sound considerably to meet the musical climate of the mid-to-late 1990’s, a direction that particularly vocalist Tony Harnell is fond of. Unfortunately, this very talented band showed neither an ability to write coherent songs in the grunge/alt-rock genre nor reasonable production to grace their compositions with, making these two albums a clear low point for the band.

In fairness, Transistor is a bit better than its predecessor Firefly if you take the latter album’s one good song, power ballad “Soldier of the Light” away (the song was an earlier demo that was tacked on as a bonus and not originally intended for the release). The production is slightly more bearable, there are more flirtations with at least a heavy rock sound, and at a few junctures, if you squint really hard, you can almost hear the ‘80s TNT underneath all the grungy rubbish.

Still, like Firefly, Transistor doesn’t wait around to reveal its issues, as opener “Just Like God” starts things out on an exceptionally poor note. The song opens with a sampled shuffle beat and some weird sampled vocals before launching into a muddy downtuned riff with St. Anger-esque drums. Harnell randomly channels Raine Maida with some odd falsetto bits, and though he puts up an animated vocal performance in spots, he sounds like he has to scream just to be heard above the two layers of bad drums and the sludgy guitar.

As with Firefly, a lot of this album is spent amalgamating ‘90s clichés with no sense of song pacing or arrangement. “Crashing Down” does just that, with faceless grunge verses emptying into an obnoxious chorus. “Into Pieces” is the worst thing here, with terrible sampled drums, overly reverbed backing vocals, and a completely ridiculous lead break from Ronni Le Tekrø. The tender balladry fares little better. “Fantasia Espinola” throws in some lyrical clichés over some boring acoustics before a purposeless launch into poorly produced alt-rock for the final minute. “Under My Pillow” also tries to eventually transition from gentle balladry into something heavier, but Harnell’s overly light, whispered delivery fails to convince, and again the ending is incredibly sloppily executed.

That’s only five tracks out of these 11, though, and at least the remaining six are bearable. “No Such Thing” is probably the closest the band ever came to making their sound fit in a ‘90s aesthetic, with some cool chord selections in the verses and bridge and a nice Le Tekrø solo, though the chorus hook still comes up a bit short. Closer “No Guarantees” has almost a punk vibe in the intro before going into stuttering verses that actually have some metal to them (albeit nu-metal); Harnell’s edgy, intense singing and the overall brevity of the song allow it to be reasonably effective. “Because I Love You” is a passable emulation of Pearl Jam. “The Whole You’re Inn” and “Mousetrap” have Le Tekrø riffs that actually call back to TNT’s old sound a bit, and Harnell’s delivery ends up in between Layne Staley and Awake-era James LaBrie, though the parts of these songs don’t always fit together all that well.

Though Firefly’s experimental tendencies have been dialed back here in favor of at least a more unified grunge/alt-rock sound, Transistor demonstrated how far away TNT still was from making this style work for them. To their credit, they pulled a stylistic 180 after its release, going back to their strengths for their next two albums. Firefly and Transistor are to be avoided—not only do they fail to come anywhere near the heights of TNT’s other Harnell-era work, they don’t even approach the songcraft of good grunge and alternative artists. These two albums are a testament to how even prodigious talent wasn’t always of great assistance in allowing formerly-great ‘80s metallers to find a way to fit in ‘90s trends.

TraNsiTional AND True TNT - 90%

Rael, March 24th, 2011
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Spitfire Records

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.

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...