The ruckus made in recent years about JUDAS PRIEST attempting a controversial metal opera with "Nostradamus" can be used as a frame of reference if you weren't there for the controversy "Turbo" created for the band in 1986. The album was hung upon PRIEST as an indictment by "pure" headbangers in the same way "Load" would be upon METALLICA a decade later. "Turbo" was met by mainstream listeners with an ingratiating thumbs-up, as was MOTLEY CRUE's "Girls, Girls, Girls" and DEF LEPPARD's "Hysteria", other albums by hard rock giants who took softer, more commercial stances in the same timeframe and found their way to riches. To less profitable degrees, it's the same soft-soap stumblebum as ALCATRAZZ's "Dangerous Games" and TYGERS OF PAN TANG's "The Wreck-Age".
You could see the awkward social changes in American high schools of the day; those who persecuted metalheads were suddenly currying their favor. These new fans (i.e. interlopers) were now strapping on MOTLEY and PRIEST T-shirts, where once TEARS FOR FEARS and THE FIXX had draped. If you're a sharp observer, and more a fan of "Point Of Entry" versus "Turbo", you get the in-joke dropped into the metal-schlock movie "Trick Or Treat", also from 1986. It's that scene when the beautiful straight girl Leslie, the metalhead's connotation of the phrase meaning normal kids or preppies, comes up to Roger at the Halloween dance and tries to look metal-cool by asking him, "Judas?" Groan. All part of the weird syndrome to find a happy medium between mainstream and subculture. Oddly enough, Roger himself hardly passes off as metal, though his expertise rings true thanks to a savvy script writer.
Why "Turbo" was such a shock to the system is easily gauged by the albums preceding it, "Screaming For Vengeance" and "Defenders Of The Faith". "You've Got Another Thing Coming" could be viewed as JUDAS PRIEST's first step into the mainstream as the band's future calling card single. Today it's interesting to see it, along with "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight", infiltrate the playlists of FM classic rock radio. In 1986, JUDAS PRIEST, along with many of the high profile heavy metal hitters, was all but forced at gunpoint to lighten its tones and slick up its songwriting. Hit generation and album sales meant more than artistic statements in this period of the genre — if you wanted a tour-intensive label signing. Heavy metal had become big business, and even thrash acts who rose during the mid-'80s under the rallying cry against "false metal" were, themselves, later victims of change like PRIEST on the vilified album "Turbo".
This was a period in heavy metal history where even IRON MAIDEN was thrown under the microscope by the faithful for tweaking its music with guitar synthesizers on "Somewhere in Time" and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son". Argue for or against those albums all you like: they were hardly guilty of the unforeseen taming down on "Turbo". Even JUDAS PRIEST's image went through an agonizing wringer for this album, swinging from a tough leather-clad pack to a horrific, poofed-up pageant, a metal Moulin Rouge, if you will.
"Turbo Lover" charged onto MTV and "Headbangers Ball", which had already been playing the tar out of "Love Bites" and "Freewheel Burning" from "Defenders Of The Faith". The latter were righteous JUDAS PRIEST beasts chased off to the new-order cybernetic shrill of "Tron"-inspired motorcycles. Like Tom Petty did to much better effect in the "You Got Lucky" video, the "Locked In" clip tried to make use of the apocalyptic wasteland scrummed over by Mad Max as a would-be takeover zone for punks and metal freaks. Did you catch that in-joke inside the hella-cool "Fury Road" film? Later, JUDAS PRIEST took a simpler approach by filming the band onstage during the "Fuel for Life" tour; summoning Gen X teens as purportedly unified with the authority-rebuking "Parental Guidance" video.
The problem was, the message carried less staunch than the content, since "Parental Guidance" was being sung by the Jordache brigade instead of the shredded-up Levi's crew. Some longtime JUDAS PRIEST fans simply accepted this maddening pop carnival. However, a large percentage ran straight to MEGADETH, a band that was boisterously expressing the outrage most metalheads felt in 1986. "Rock You All Around The World", "Reckless" and "Hot For Love" were as close to true PRIEST as could be found on "Turbo". The future looked bleak until "Ram it Down" heavied-it-up, as if in apology for this blatant cashing in.
Coming to "Turbo" thirty years later, the album doesn't stand the test of time. It's as dated and flawed as KISS's "Crazy Nights": both contain a few bouncing singles, a couple of genuine shakers and a lot of filler. For history sake, Sony's thirtieth anniversary edition of "Turbo" gives newer audiences a look upon JUDAS PRIEST's most successful outing. As stricken as the band was to come up with surefire hits like "Turbo Lover" and "Locked In", neither track finds much play anywhere today. Consider the irony in that PRIEST's venture into power pop nearly spelled career suicide.
There is a goofy attraction to ""Turbo Lover" with Ian Hill's one-dimensional bass hum and the faux-hydraulic screeches that give Rob Halford's sultry panting a genuine pump. By the time K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton start asserting their guitars past the synthesizers and Terminator robot gnashing behind the corny choruses, the song does kick as much as it's God-awful. "Locked In" carries enough of a strut to hang with, despite the twittering keys spewing a horror show over what could've been a rocking, sweet jam.
When the clumsy disco rocker "Private Property" hits, "Turbo" feels like a point of no return. It's the answer to Alice Cooper's "Constrictor" album, which had turned the Prince of Darkness's career around the same year. Ian Hill's near-mindless bass line does keep "Private Property" on course as Dave Holland's equally numbed rhythm is gobbled by synths and clapping drum machines.
"Out In The Cold" strives for invention, considering John Carpenter and Alan Howarth had turned synthesizers into the epitome of cool behind their horror and hard sci-fi film scores. The intro to "Out In The Cold" is a disaster with the poorly mixed, arrhythmic drop of Dave Holland's slow drum patters amidst the aloof keys. The song itself grows a little muscle on the heels of power chords as it shambles along its synth-baked quagmire.
"Turbo" is essentially a convulsive by-product of its times, an album filled with anthems—"Rock You All Around The World", "Parental Guidance" and "Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days" — and lovesick rock pleas common to the times. With the rear two songs "Hot For Love" and "Reckless" at least making an attempt to amp up, seldom few will care. "Reckless" has some balls and far less festering synth action. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton cut loose here, alleluia. Give that one a chance to win you over, at least.
This three-album edition of "Turbo" comes with a live recording from the '86 "Fuel for Life" tour, recorded at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City. This 20-song set offers a few more than what's delivered on 1987's hot-selling, if so-so "Priest…Live!", which was recorded at the Omni in Atlanta and Reunion Arena in Dallas. Here you get "Desert Plains", ""Victim Of Changes", and "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown) ". You even get "Locked In", which was surprisingly omitted from "Priest…Live!" even on the 2001 remaster.
We all knew this anniversary edition was coming, given all the other celebration packages preceding it. The two live discs compensate greatly, but at the end of the day, "Turbo" remains the inarguable misfire from a heavy metal juggernaut who must stand accountable for it yet again. "Turbo" was designed to soundboard the huffing excitability of The Big Eighties, particularly our growing obsession with cybernetics. The saturation of keys on the album was supposed to take JUDAS PRIEST into the future along with the rest of us, but alas, it came to a splintery thud like the bad end of a light cycle duel. If you're buying the 150-gram-vinyl version containing only the presentation of "Turbo", you're a completist beyond completists.