Skim through the catalogues of any number of rock bands who have enjoyed a lot of popularity and, invariably, it’s easy to find the fly in the creative ointment that fans abhor. That album was Into The Unknown for Bad Religion, it was Unmasked for KISS and Metallica has yet to live down Load. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for those albums or maybe they were just weak and generally ill-advised but, even if they aren’t liked by all the band’s fans, they’ve captured the hearts of some fans. Such is not a statement that Judas Priest’s tenth studio album, Turbo, can make. Even now, three decades after Turbo came out, it still inspires sneers and jeers among metalheads in general and embarrassed blushes from Priest fans in specific; everyone seems to enjoy taking cheap shots at this album, mercilessly.
Well, “everyone” liking to take cheap shots at Turbo might be a bit of an overstatement – I don’t reject Turbo out of hand. It has always been this critic’s nature to be contrary; as soon as someone tells me that something is terrible, my interest is piqued – sometimes because I feel like arguing but often because I feel compelled to find out what has inspired such a negative reaction for myself. So that’s exactly what I did when I learned of fans dislike of Turbo (and it didn’t hurt that Legacy had released a 2-CD reissue commemorating the album’s thirtieth anniversary this year).
Right off, in listening to Legacy’s reissue of Turbo, I can understand why diehard metalheads don’t like the album – the metal edge that Judas Priest’s fans adore is absent from it. That is not to say the band spontaneously lightened up for a minute and recorded it, just that they don’t sound like the band who also made albums like British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance or Defenders Of The Faith.
The difference is obvious from the moment “Turbo Lover” kicks the album into gear. Right off, the guitar tone of K.K Downing and Glenn Tipton sounds streamlined with no clips of distortion (overdrive maybe, but not distortion) and the drums sound obviously and overly treated. On top of that, synthesizers beef up the sound of the song and instantly date it as being an ‘Eighties’ creation. In many ways, the overall impression left is nearly identical to the perfectly sanitized and clean tones from which Iggy Pop created his cover of “Real Wild Child” and the rest of the Blah Blah Blah album too. It is, needless to say, not the greatest way to get started and has not sweetened with age.
It might not start well, but Turbo does make back some of the ground left behind by its first impression when “Locked In” earnestly follows it. In many ways, “Locked In” could be viewed as an abandoned classic; here, the guitar tones instantly register as classic Priest as the tight interplay between Tipton and Downing locks into place, solos begin to germinate (but not fly off into oblivion), Halford gets comfortable with the sound the band is making and really begins to howl as he always has when he’s at his best, and the drums recede back into a rhythm which drives the song instead of threatening to overshadow it. Simply said, “Locked In” marks the beginning of the strongest sounds made on this much underrated album, and it’s not the only track of its type here.
After “Locked In,” tracks including “Private Property,” “Rock You All Around The World” and “Reckless” all further cement the ‘new values’ image that Priest earnestly attempts to erect in the running of Turbo and, thirty years later, they clearly prove to have aged very well. Really (while it might not have been an intentional thing), the clean-but-crunchy, punk/metallic guitar attack that each song here features presages the sounds that artists like Every Time I Die and Obey The Brave would turn into gold-coated fare thirty years later.
And of course Halford’s voice proves to be a continual work of metal art in spite of the fact that his relationship with the rest of Priest was well on its way to dissolving by the time of Turbo‘s release [just four years and two studio albums after Turbo, Halford would abandon Priest until 2005] – but the obvious appeal and influence of this album remains inconvenient, to this day. In many ways, the simplest label to affix to this album in 2017 is “inconveniently influential” – but good luck getting most self-respecting metal heads to admit that.
What it would be easier to get fans on board for are the two bonus live CDs added to this reissue set, captured at Priest’s show from the Fuel For Life tour in Kansas City on May 22, 1986. The first (and arguably most important) thing listeners will notice about this show is that the set – featuring tracks culled from British Steel, Point Of Entry, Screaming For Vengeance, Defenders Of The Faith and Turbo (among others) does not feature any added assistance from a keyboard player which makes it a genuine, metallic Judas Priest show in the finest tradition of the band by extension.
Here, while both the stage and the band on it are large, Judas Priest does not phone their show in as they just unload like the metal monsters they have always been regardless of how functional (or not) they were at the time. Here, the takes of “Metal Gods,” “Electric Eye,” “Living After Midnight,” “Locked In” and “Hell Bent For Leather” all stand as proof that, even if they might not have been in the best place personally in the Eighties, Judas Priest were true monsters of rock and the size of the crowds they were drawing was most definitely deserved.
But, with all of the above in mind, is there the chance that Turbo may finally be freed from the critical dustbin that it has been left in for the last thirty years? It would be great to think so – there is definitely plenty about this reissue for listeners to absorb and lots of reasons to re-evaluate objectively, but the tragedy is that many metalheads tend to be a dogmatic bunch, are seldom willing to leave the ideas they’ve been told are true for decades behind and often are content to follow their peers along the same critical tunnel they’ve walked down for ages because there’s security in numbers.
That’s unfortunate and, for the reissue of Turbo, doesn’t leave a whole lot of hope with the old guard, but there is the chance that Turbo may finally get its due among younger metalheads and Priest fans who haven’t been in the community long enough to get sunk under dogma yet. There is the outside chance that, with this reissue, the merits of Turbo may indeed begin to seep into the heart of Priest’s fanbase and taint a small group of younger fans first, before growing as older fans fall away. Is it likely? Nope – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.