It is an album that has divided fans of legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest since its release in the Spring of 1986. Some love it, others loathe it. I am in the ‘really like it’ camp because I did share and continue to share some of the criticisms of these die-hards.
That’s because Turbo was a definite departure for the band, both in terms of the songwriter style and the production techniques involved in recording it.
It seemed the band was attempting to fall in line with the pop-metal or hair metal trend that was dominating the scene thanks to bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and a glammed up Motley Crue, Turbo featured an overt use of synthesized keyboard, processed guitar sounds and a lighter tone. Lyrically, the band also moved towards more grounded and generic subject such as fun, love, partying and teenaged rebellion.
It was designed to be more commercial in the short term and on that matter, thanks to massive airplay on radio and especially on video channels such as MTV and MuchMusic in Canada, it reached Gold status within a few months and certified platinum by mid-1987. On the charts, it made it to number 33 in the United Kingdom and number 17 on the American Billboard 20, the highest the band ever got to during its 1980s heyday.
Perhaps many casual Priest fans or generic hair metal fans purchased the record to give it this sales push because in subsequent years it has become somewhat derided by the hard-core Priest fans for its more moderate approach, especially when you consider the epic nature of the band’s two previous records, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith, and a deeper back catalogue that includes metal classics like Metal Gods, Hell Bent for Leather and Victim of Changes.
Now, all this being said, I loved re-listening to this album as it took me back to those halcyon teenaged years when hard rock, regardless of its occasional poppy, glammed up sheen, was still the biggest form of music on the planet.
And to be fair, many of the songs from Turbo have always sounded awesome live, especially Out in the Cold which is an excellent concert starter.
Tunes such as the title track, Private Property, Parental Guidance and Rock You All Around the World are powerfully fun, foot stomping anthems, which do fit in nicely with any retro playlist. The remastering has added some depth to the overall sound, and especially digitally, gives it some muscle.
And, frankly, many of the critics have failed to give Judas Priest and producer Tom Allom credit for what could be one of the earliest industrial-metal albums. There are places where the heavy electronica additions to the driving beat and powerful riffing presage what would come not long thereafter from bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails.
But like a number of the Judas Priest anniversary re-issues, my favourite aspect is the live component. In the three-CD version, the remastered album is on the first disc, while a previously-unreleased May 1986 concert in Kansas City takes up the second and third discs. It features the band at its best in the 1980s, firing on all musical cylinders. Vocalist Rob Halford is at his shrieking best, the twin guitar attack of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton is both incendiary and melodic. The bottom end is held down with murderous aplomb by bassist Ian Hill and then-drummer Dave Hollard.
Of particular awesomeness are the live versions of old school Priest songs like the aforementioned Victim of Changes, Desert Plain and the brilliant You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.
Fans of the band – even a lot of the naysayers – are probably grabbing all of these re-releases to add to their collections, but I think this set appeals to rock fans who may not know much about the band and who are looking for a way to easily enter the Judas Priest universe. The studio version of Turbo is very accessible and there are enough classic Priest tunes on the live album, played with appropriate heaviness, to act as a gateway to the band’s back catalogue.
I don’t give stars or roses or any other score for albums. I’ll simply say that the 30th Anniversary edition of Turbo is tons of fun, a rollicking good time and well worth a listen for any rock fan.
- Jim Barber