Career Reviews – Def Leppard (Part 2)

Please go back and read Part 1 of the Def Leppard discussion here.
—————————————-

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.

———————-

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.

Career Reviews – Def Leppard (Part 1)

Def Leppard is one of those bands that are synonymous with the 1980s heyday of Heavy Metal. Back in the late ’70s, five young lads from Sheffield, England formed a Rock band rooted in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement and launched into superstardom by the mid-80s. Def Leppard is one of those bands that also carries the weight of controversy. Punters across the globe all agreed the boys could rock but, as their success began to build, their sound became more Pop oriented and diehard Metalheads felt betrayed. Despite personal tragedies, the excesses of success, and changing musical trends, Def Leppard remains as one of the most successful Rock/Metal bands of all time…..

On Through The Night (1980) – Hard and hungry, that’s how I describe the Def Leppard debut. Coming in at the beginning of the NWOBHM, this album rode the wave and is still regarded as one of the harder, and better, Def Leppard albums. Great tracks on this platter: ‘Rock Brigade’, ‘Rocks Off’, ‘Wasted’ and the rest. A strong debut from a very young band. It sounds more raw than the polished High’n Dry that followed. I remember the band at the beginning but I never heard this until after Pyromania in ’83. I got that album and went back to the beginning.

High’n Dry (1981) – Enter Mutt Lange, producer extraordinaire! This is another gem of an album. Building on their debut’s momentum, the Leps break radio with hard rocker ‘Let It Go’ and power ballad ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’. More polished than On Through The Night, courtesy of Mr. Mutt, but still a strong Hard Rock album rooted in the NWOBHM. At this point, the Leps are starting to really make noise, along with Iron Maiden, putting the new British Invasion on FM radio across the U.S.

I remember listening to 94 WHJY (Providence, RI) and hearing ‘Let It Go’ for the first time, I kept singing the chorus over and over for days. Like the debut record, I didn’t hear this one until after I got Pyromania. 24 years later, I reach for High’n Dry more than any Def Leppard album even though it is not my true favorite.

Pyromania (1983) – Open the floodgates! Building on the relationship the producer Mutt Lange, the band creates what many believe to be their masterpiece. It’s also no surprise that the band’s rise to the top went hand in hand with the birth of MTV. By 1983, MTV was in more households across the U.S. and people clamored to be in front of what was a revolutionary way to listen/see music. Starting with ‘Photograph’, and moving on to ‘Foolin’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’, the band created some of the most memorable songs of their career. They also used videos to help the singles climb the charts and push Pyromania into multi-platinum status. From openers to headliners in the blink of an eye, Def Leppard became a household name.

This cassette came my way thanks to Mom, who knew I was addicted to MTV. She didn’t want me to sit in front of the TV all day so she bought me the tape so I could LISTEN to it in my room, freeing up the TV for a bit for my younger sister and brother! I ate it up, devouring the album tracks as well: ‘Rock, Rock, Till You Drop’, ‘Too Late For Love’, ‘Die Hard The Hunter’. I was too young to see the band in concert but some guys in my class went, they had the Union Jack muscle shirts…..I always wanted one. My 6th grade was split on who was better: Def Leppard, Van Halen, or Motley Crue. If you add the girls in, you got Duran Duran. I was the lone KISS fan. It all hinged on MTV’s FRIDAY NIGHT VIDEO FIGHTS: ‘Photograph’ vs. ‘Jump’, the winner got to face Duran’s ‘The Reflex’. To a class of 11 yr olds, these things were extremely serious! This is my favorite Def Lep release mostly due to the nostalgia of this being one of my first non-KISS albums and my first Leppard release.

Hysteria (1987) –  If the floodgates were open with Pyromania, then the dam totally burst with Hysteria! But not at first…..

Master Mutt behind the knobs again and the boys had been in the studio during 1985 for some grueling sessions. This album was delayed because of Mutt’s tenacity at making the guys do the takes over, and over, and over, and…..well, you get the picture. Master Mutt wanted perfection and, if we go by sales, he got it! There was also a delay due to Rick Allen’s near fatal car wreck that sacrificed his arm. I give the guys credit for waiting on the guy, you wouldn’t see that today. I remember seeing the report on MTV and a blurb in a newspaper, Def Leppard was one of the top bands, I couldn’t imagine them not being around. I remember the special report Circus did the issue following the accident, it wasn’t news until Circus or Hit Parader reported it!

After much delay, and four years in the making, the Leps released Hysteria and the first single, ‘Women’, to radio and MTV. I saw the world premiere late at night and I thought the song was great, the public didn’t. Same with ‘Animal’, the second single. And ‘Love Bites’, the third. Gone was the young, and hungry band, they were fat on success and could do what they wanted…..or what Mutt Lange wanted. Hysteria is a “watered down” Def Leppard. Over-produced, sounds almost robotic, especially the drums which I assume is a drum machine like Pyromania’s. The songs aren’t that bad, except for a few, it’s just that the Leps became a different type of band: a Pop Rock band. 

The album stalled until they released ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ mid-tour. They were hovering around 2 or 3 million sold with decent attendance but, once they released the new single, everything skyrocketed. I saw the band live (with Tesla) in Providence, RI early in the tour. They had just released ‘Sugar’ and the hysteria hadn’t hit yet. I feel fortunate to have seen the band live when they were actually working hard on stage, when they came back around the New England area after ‘Sugar’, it was a totally different live show. The guys were into it but the fire, the hunger, the power was gone.

Seven singles released from what has become one of the biggest Hard Rock sellers of all time. Definitely Def Leppard’s pinnacle for popularity, sales, attendance, and money. Do I like the album? Yes. I like everything except ‘Love Bites’ and ‘Sugar’. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s because it dropped when I was an impressionable 15 yr. old trying to get a chick. If Hysteria was released now, I’d probably pass it by.

Adrenalize (1992) – Four years after Hysteria, the band releases Adrenalize. Now if this album was released in 1989 or 1990, Def Leppard would be the biggest band on the planet! I call this Hysteria II. The album just oozes technology and production.  Produced by the band and Mike Shipley, the Executive Producer is none other than Mutt Lange! Big surprise. Biggest loss is the death of Steve Clark. Obviously a huge blow to the band by losing a close friend but also a huge blow to the sound because I think Steve Clark had the balls of the group. Maybe if he lived, Adrenalize would be more it’s own record rather than a sequel to Hysteria. I guess that’s the problem in itself: you have the biggest seller of your career, an ultra-successful 2 and a half year tour, and all your dreams have come true. How do you follow that? The easiest thing to do is follow the same formula.

Six singles off this platter but the album stalled at around 5 million in the U.S., a smashing success for a Hard Rock band in 1992 but a failure for Def Leppard who are now used to shifting albums upwards of 8 to 10 million. I passed on the tour this time around as I figured I’d seen it already twice back in ’87/’88, my friends said it was a great show. Overall, the album leaves me cold. The songs are catchy, typical Def Lep, but it’s an album without fire to me. I like it, not as much as Pyromania, or even Hysteria, so I don’t reach for it much. Best track on the album is ‘Tear It Down’, a ripping single that goes back to the glory days. I also dig ‘Heaven Is’, it’s got a nice groove.

I remember going to Strawberries Records & Tapes in Pawtucket, RI for the special midnight sale. Adrenalize was released the same day as Bruce Springsteen released both Lucky Town and Human Touch albums (check out my post from April about this night) so the crowd was pretty big. It was an event, maybe the last of such events as the musical climate had changed. Like I mentioned, if this album was released in ’80/’90, Def Leppard have another HUGE hit and mega-sales. During the Seattle/Grunge/Nirvana wave of music, a release from one of the biggest Hard Rock bands of all time got lost in the shuffle (if you want to call 5 million shifted “lost”). This album began the decline, albeit a successful start to the decline.

The band became a victim of their own success. It’s tough to top your previous work if that work is your biggest seller. It’s also tough to release new material and stay relevant if you are on tour for the same album for 2+ years. I always said that the 4 year gaps between Pyromania-Hysteria and Hysteria-Adrenalize were part of the band’s undoing. You can’t blame the guys for the car accident or death of Steve Clark, things happen. You can’t blame them for milking each record and tour either, they were doing what everyone would do…..make a boatload of money! By the end of this tour, the Leps needed to take a break…..

(Stay tuned for Part 2, coming next week…..)

Career Review: Buckcherry

Buckcherry – s/t (1999)

1. Lit Up
2. Crushed
3. Dead Again
4. Check Your Head
5. Dirty Mind
6. For The Movies
7. Lawless And LuLu
8. Related
9. Borderline
10. Get Back
11. Baby
12. Drink The Water

Buckcherry was a band I started to hear serious buzz about back in early 1998 when I first connected to the Internet. When their debut album dropped in early 1999, I picked it up right away and was blown apart. Lead single Lit Up got major airplay in the RI/MA market. This debut turned into one of my favorite albums and an instant classic.

Add Guns’n Roses, Aerosmith, and AC/DC and that’s the Buckcherry sound. We’re talking basic guitar driven Hard Rock: chunky riffs, actual guitar solos, lyrics about sex/drugs/alcohol/rockin’, and melody. I swear I thought this band would be the next GNR, the next band to make that landmark album, setting the industry ablaze. It was a raw, street type sound: chugging guitars and a raspy/screaming vocal with a sense of groove and punch. Even though the debut went Gold, and the band toured relentlessly, they didn’t set the industry ablaze like Guns did.

A solid album, my fave tracks here are Lit Up, rock chugger Dead Again, the ballad For The Movies, and Lawless And Lulu.

Buckcherry – Time Bomb (2001)

1. Frontside
2. Ridin’
3. Time Bomb
4. Porno Star
5. Place In The Sun
6. (Segue) Helpless
7. Underneath
8. Slit My Wrists
9. Whiskey In The Morning
10. You
11. Slammin’
12. Fall

Another solid album! Buckcherry’s sophomore effort keeps to the same formula as the debut: sex, drugs, and Rock’n’Roll with heavy guitar, melody, and gutter vocals. Lead single Ridin’ is a clone of the previous lead single, Lit Up, but it still does what a good song should do: keep the listener listening! Strong songs all around: opening rocker Frontside, Ridin’, and Porno Star are all highlights for me.

Ridin’ got radio airplay and MTV put the video in heavy rotation. (The video was crap. A car with a bunch of hot chicks is fine, but the dance singer Josh Todd was doing was comical. Buckcherry and dancing don’t mix, Buckcherry and kick ass partying does!) I saw these guys open for AC/DC on the STIFF UPPER LIP tour in Boston, MA…..the band was smoking! Unfortunately, despite the good press, MTV, and AC/DC, Time Bomb struggled to get to 250,000 copies sold. I guess you could say it bombed!

Buckcherry got dropped by their label, Dreamworks. Internal problems caused the band to split. Singer Josh Todd released a solo album, You Made Me, in January 2004.

Buckcherry – 15 (2006)

1. So Far
2. Next To You
3. Out Of Line
4. Everything
5. Carousel
6. Sorry
7. Crazy Bitch
8. Onset
9. Sunshine
10. Brooklyn
11. Broken Glass

It’s 5 years after the Time Bomb album and Buckcherry slams down another slab of pure Hard Rock with 15. The formula hasn’t changed and neither has the songwriting. Some would consider it boring and it’s almost a death knell for an album to contain songs about partying and sex but I find it refreshing in today’s watered down safe Rock radio.

Lead single this time around is Crazy Bitch and is getting radio play here in New England like the previous lead singles. It’s got a catchy lyric and a groove that you remember. Other faves so far are the lead track So Far, Everything, Crazy Bitch, and Carousel.

This album was released on a small label, Eleven Seven Music, but the band was recently picked up by Atlantic in partnership with Eleven Seven.

For more info on Buckcherry, head over to their official website.