Career Reviews – Def Leppard (Part 2)

Please go back and read Part 1 of the Def Leppard discussion here.
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Retro-Active (1993) – A thirteen song collection of B-sides and soundtrack songs. Top song and single here is ‘Two Steps Behind’ that was featured on the movie soundtrack for Last Action Hero.

I never gave this album much thought because I was never into Def Lep B-sides (some people make a point to seek them out) and I wasn’t floored by the lead single. I never reach for this album, never. The last listen was for this article and I will put it back in the CD case for another lengthy stay. For me, it’s a cash grab from a band that needed a much deserved break.

Vault (1995) – Def Leppard’s first greatest hits record spanning the years 1980-1995. Too bad it doesn’t really cover all those years! The only track pre-Pyromania is ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’ (from 1981′s High’n Dry). We get six songs from Hysteria, three from Pyromania, and three from Adrenalize. I’m shocked that Hysteria’s lead single, ‘Women’ isn’t on here, as well as, Pyromania opener  ‘Rock Rock (Till You Drop)’. I don’t remember ‘Two Steps Behind’ and ‘Miss You In A Heartbeat’ (both from Retro-Active) being huge hits for the band but they are included too. Overall, a good representation of the band’s “golden era” for the casual fan but the diehards almost always will make their own mix. Sold over 5 million in the U.S. last time I checked.

Slang (1996) – Another four years in between studio albums and the band releases their most controversial record to date. If the discussions about the change in the Def Lep sound were big around the Hysteria release, then they were huge come Slang.

Slang is a totally different record than anything the Leps have ever put out. It’s a “grown up” record, the band spreading their collective wings and channelling a new energy. At this point, Def Leppard is an ultra-successful band, every album so far has turned multi-platinum and their tours are big sellers. The boys are now men, seasoned vets of the music industry, they’ve grown.

Every band has an experimental record…..some are more experimental than others. Taking from the current trends in Rock in the ’90s and adding that to their own interests in British Rock/Prog from the 1970s, the band fashion a modern sounding album. Songs like ‘Slang’, ‘Work It Out’, ‘Pearl Of Euphoria’ are departures from the ’80s Leppard sound but they do retain key characteristics: good guitar solos and backing vocals, but not as overblown.

I like this album but I don’t reach for it that often. I see no problem in a band experimenting with their sound and, in Def Lep’s case, they still sound like Def Leppard. This is the time where you may notice that the band was shying away from the “80s Metal band” cliche and trying to be taken seriously. Competing with bands like Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots for sales and chart position, Slang bombed in the U.S. I don”t even remember if they toured in my area. My copy is the two disc limited edition with the six song Acoustic In Singapore.

Euphoria (1999) – Where Hysteria and Adrenalize left off, Euphoria continues. Hot on the heels of the ’80s Hard Rock revival that kicked off with the KISS reunion in 1996, the band crafts a very 1980s sounding album. I heard the lead single, ‘Promises’, on the way to Burgettstown, PA to see the Poison reunion tour. Great song, would have easily fit on Hysteria. Big choruses, guitar solos, harmonies…..the album is like a trip back in time to the mid-80s heyday.

I really like this album even though the band seem to have regressed to their “old” sound after denouncing it during the Slang era. Favorite songs here: ‘Promises’, ‘All Night’, ‘To Be Alive’, ‘Guilty’…..actually, I think the whole album is strong. I saw the tour in Mansfield, MA at the outdoor Tweeter Center, it was sold-out. The openers were nobodies and Def Leppard played a solid two hours with an acoustic interlude in the middle of the set. Great album, sold-out show, I figured that big sales for a big band were in the making. Radio didn’t latch on to the album and sales were around 300,000 in the U.S. last time I checked. Almost Gold isn’t bad for a band that isn’t in the top tier anymore.

This album and Slang are the forgotten records. Even the band forgets Euphoria now. I just saw the show with Journey last week. On the big screen, Def Leppard had graphics depicting all of their albums. Every single one was represented EXCEPT Euphoria. No songs from the album were played live, they did play ‘Promises’ on the X Tour in 2003.

X (2002) – Hard to believe it’s been four years since Def Leppard released and album of original material…..OK, I’m kidding. This is the formula the band follows: release album, tour for 2 years, take a year off, write and enter studio for a year, album released. No wonder the band gets forgotten about! At least the Leps decided that they would release quality material and X is exactly that: a quality album. Take 1996′s Slang and add it to 1999′s Euphoria and you get X. It’s an updated sound (like Slang) while retaining the band’s signature sound  (Euphoria) and getting the proper mix. I think this album is what they were trying to get when they made Slang.

It’s a lighter Leppard, a mid-tempo/ballady Leppard, a Leppard that tried to change it’s spots, went back again, and found a happy medium. It’s not traditional Hard Rock, X is more Pop-oriented Rock, more radio friendly and not lumped totally into the ’80s Hair revolution. Actually, the guys really start to hammer home that they ARE NOT a Metal band or a Hard Rock Band. The promotion for X saw Joe Elliot almost denouncing the band’s ’80s heyday and influence. Obviously trying to do what they want while keeping the fanbase intact, the album is good nonetheless. First single ‘Now’ and the follow-up ballad, ‘Long Long Way To Go’, were tailor made for Rock radio. Here in Rhode Island, both songs got serious airplay as did ‘Four Letter Word’ when the concert was announced.

Overall though, the record label (Island/Def Jam…part of Universal/Mercury) didn’t do much to really promote the album. I wonder if it was because the band was switched to a new subsidiary and the label didn’t know how to promote them. I do know that the band barely drew 2000 people to the Providence Civic Center, a 12,000 seater, that they had sold-out every tour so far. I was in the 3rd row and they played over 2 hours. An excellent show where they played the full High’n Dry album to start and then played all the hits with four songs from X. A very professional and energetic performance from the band. There was no radio promotion except for the occasional mention, no posters or adverts, no buzz.

Favorite songs here: ‘Now’, ‘You’re So Beautiful’, ‘Long Long Way To Go’, ‘ Torn To Shreds’, and ‘Love Don’t Lie’. Actually, I like the whole album, it’s different but really good.

Best Of (2004) – A two-disc greatest hits set with one new track, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, that was a taster for the upcoming covers album, Yeah!. Every song from 1995′s Vault greatest hits is here EXCEPT for ‘Miss You In A Heartbeat’. Of the 34 songs, some great inclusions here:

  • Rock Brigade
  • Women
  • Let It Go
  • Wasted
  • Die Hard The Hunter
  • Rock Rock (Till You Drop)

My version is the limited edition European version. This was released in the U.S. officially as The Definitive Collection (2005) seven months later with a different tracklisting, changing five songs, the running order, and the album artwork. I reach for Best Of more than Vault, it’s a better representation. The Definitive Collection is also a better overview of the band’s career than Vault is.

Yeah! (2006) – I reviewed this album back in June, please go here to read it.

Now that you’ve read my initial review, my opinion stays the same: I don’t really like it. I just saw the live show this past Saturday and I admit that both ’20th Century Boy’ and ‘Rock On’ were pretty good live. I would still rather have an album of original material than a covers album but I am not a member of Def Leppard and they can do what they want after such a successful career. From what I’ve seen online, as of July 4th, 2006, Yeah! only sold about 100,000 copies in the U.S. With the tour ongoing, I’m sure that’s gone up a little but not too much.

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I really hope that the band comes back with a solid album of original material and abandons the “we’re not a Hair Band/Metal Band/Hard Rock Band” schtick. If they embraced their past rather than discredit it, I think they would be seen as less of a footnote and more of a success.  I’m still a fan and I will still support their career.