Saturday, 26 December 2015

Def Leppard's 'Def Leppard' - Album Review

Def Leppard were one of the biggest selling bands of the 1980s, and on of the UK's best musical exports. Embraced more readily in America than in their home country, the band focused on that market and solid albums and singles by the millions. They did not do badly over here either, with two Number 1 albums and three Top 10 singles, but America was always far more receptive to Sheffield's finest's brand of melodic pop rock. I doubt there are many out there that would argue that 1983's Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria to be the band's creative, and certainly commercial, peak. Def Leppard, and then producer Robert John 'Mutt' Lange who deserves a lot of credit for shaping the direction of the band, took the world by storm with those albums and received the success they deserved. There is still nothing out there that sounds quite like Hysteria. While the band have released plenty of good albums since then, they all live in the shadow of Hysteria. A couple of months ago, the band released their eleventh studio album, simply titled Def Leppard. It has been a while since Def Leppard last released a studio album - seven years in fact as the rather excellent Songs from the Sparkle Lounge was released in 2008. Since then we have had two live albums (for a band that had not released a single one up until that point!), 2011's Mirror Ball: Live & More and 2013's Viva! Hysteria. The former of those live albums contained three new studio recordings, but it would be a further four years before we would get a full new album from the band. For a while it looked like Def Leppard were not going to record another album. There was talk of doing a series of EPs or just putting a few new songs online every-so-often, as the band believed the album format was dead. Of course, this is a load of rubbish, and it seems the band finally also came to this conclusion. I am very glad, as Def Leppard is a very strong piece of work packed with plenty of varied songs and memorable moments. It seems that I am not the only one to think so either, as it reached Number 11 on the Official UK Album Chart - proving that it is still worth veteran bands to put out albums! Produced by the band and long-time collaborator Ronan McHugh, Def Leppard sounds fantastic as it weaves through it's fourteen tracks. It is probably the most dynamic album the band have put out, as there are lots of different styles attempted here - and more work than do not. While not the band's best work, Def Leppard is an album that shows the band are willing to try new things, and creativity in a veteran band is always something to be admired and encouraged.

Opener Let's Go is a typical Def Leppard rocker with a snaking main guitar riff and huge vocal harmonies throughout. Despite the diversity to come later in the album, opening with something familiar was probably a good move. Being unquestionably Def Leppard, the song immediately informs you who you are listening to, and  shows that the band can still write infectious tunes. The chorus is very strong, where frontman Joe Elliott shows that he still has a smooth voice while the rest of the band harmonise well with him. It is quite an anthemic tune, with strident power chords during the verses and an acoustic-led breakdown that leads into an explosive guitar solo. Dangerous follows on in the same theme, but raises the bar higher. Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell combine well on a raw riff that recalls the band's very early days, but there is enough polish to evoke that classic Def Leppad sound. This is one of my favourite numbers on the album, simply because it is one of the catchiest songs the band have written in some years. Meaty guitar tones are the name of the game here, and the chugging chords drive the verses as Elliott croons over the top of them. The chorus is sublime, and recalls the best moments of Hysteria. Man Enough is the first song to break the mold. Rick Savage's funky bass riff is the centrepiece of the song, and the whole song has a really danceable vibe that works really well. Despite this, the chorus still sounds like typical Def Leppard, as the guitars take over and the harmony vocals kick in. The whole song works well though, and showcases Savage in a new light as there are not many bass-lead songs in the band's catalogue. We Belong is a bit of a ballad that has all five band members singing lead vocals at some point throughout. This has not been done by the band before, and it works well as they are all competent vocalists. The song is a little sugary, but Def Leppard have always had that about them when it comes to ballads. The chorus is pretty strong though, which makes it memorable. Invincible, with it's driving bassline and ringing guitar notes, sounds a little like a modern Bon Jovi song. Elliott's voice sounds quite different to usual during the song's chorus; much lower which is what makes me think of the Bon Jovi comparisons, but it works well. It is quite a cinematic song in many ways, with expansive synthesisers throughout that compliment the simple guitar riffs well. It was also co-written by drummer Rick Allen, which is quite a rarity to see. Sea of Love is a little twee, and fails to pack much of a punch after the previous numbers. The verses are pretty good, with some up-tempo guitar patterns and a strong vocal performance, but the chorus comes off as weak in comparison. It does have a great guitar solo though. Energized is one of those experiments that, in my opinion, just does not work. Tacky electronic beats fill the verses in a poor attempt to sound 'modern', and the chorus is limp with more electronics and overpowering keyboards. The song is really quite poor in my opinion, and is easily the weakest moment of the album.

Luckily All Time High is better. A slightly punky riff heralds the song's arrival, and it soon becomes a big rocker with screaming guitars and a solid vocal performance from Elliott. This is the sort of song the album needed after the previous two numbers, and sounds like something that could have appeared on 1981's High 'n' Dry, only with modern production. There is nothing complicated about this song, and that is why it works so well. A soaring chorus and shredding guitar solo are the song's high moments, but the whole thing is enjoyable and full of that true Def Leppard charm. Battle of my Own is different again, but this time it works. The acoustic-led number has something of Led Zeppelin about it, and Elliott sings it well as the earthy acoustics layer on top of each other over simple percussion. It is a short song, but it works well to break up the pace mid-album and throw something into the mix that sounds really organic and natural. It sounds a little like the band jamming in the studio, and it works. Drums and strings to join the mix towards the end, which only helps to emphasise that Led Zeppelin feel. Broke 'n' Brokenhearted has something of Bad Company about it, with a slightly bluesy feel that has been given a commercial sheen. It is built around a smooth chorus, and contains a fairly lengthy guitar solo that is unusual for the band. It is not one of the most memorable songs on the album, but it works well as a simple rocker and contains some solid melodies. Forever Young is another very short song, but this one is a proper rocker with some big drums from Allen, and a great guitar riff that fits well with Elliott's voice. The chorus is one of the album's best I think, and this would be a great one to release to radio stations due to it's length. It is over almost as soon as it gets going. I would have liked to see this one fleshed out a bit more, as I feel it could have been a real classic if it did not feel so rushed. I still enjoy it though, and it definitely packs a punch being so upbeat. Last Dance is another ballad, and it is probably the album's best song from that category. It is acoustic-led once again, but contains all the hallmarks of what makes a good ballad. Elliott sings it well, and the wordless backing vocals inject some emotion into the performance. It is a lovely song, and one that I am sure many will enjoy. Wings of an Angel is a big rocker that has a rather un-Def Leppard sound to it, that uses dark-sounding guitar patterns for Elliott to sing over. The closer the song gets to the chorus though, the more like Def Leppard it sounds. The harmony vocals kick in, and the guitars have more of that trademark melody to them. The contrast between the two sections is great, and the chorus is very strong with a big classic rock vibe. The album's closing song Blind Faith is a bit of an odd one, and does not really sound like Def Leppard at all. It is quite a nice song, but I am not sure it works well as an album closer. It has grown on me the more I have heard it, but I cannot help but think that Wings of an Angel would have been a better album closer. Overall though, Def Leppard is a really good album. It is good to see the band are still trying to challenge themselves and write music that is different from their usual style, even if some of them do not work as well as they could have.

The album was released on 30th October 2015 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for Let's Go.

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