It's been an odd journey for Def Leppard over the last decade-plus. The band made the ominous and insolent Slang in 1996, and for my money it's one of those lost albums that verges on brilliance. After less than stellar sales, the band re-embraced the pop-rock formula that made them household names with the incandescent Euphoria, an inspired return to form, yet while the album did solid numbers (around 700,000) it didn't receive the notice it deserved or warranted.
Next up was X in 2002; a record designed for the masses and before you yelp "sell-out," I'd like to say that while they incorporated outside songwriters, they made an album that was definitively Def Leppard. X's less than stellar sales were disappointing because the album easily had four or five monster singles on that album, but sadly no one knew Def Leppard had a new album in stores.
So where does a band like Def Leppard go from there? They did their experimental album (Slang, their return to form album (Euphoria) and the album that the record company and management asked them to make, only to fail to deliver on promises (X). They settled on a beefed up new Hits collection (Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection) and a covers collection (Yeah! ).
After exhausting every angle possible, the band did the unthinkable…they prepared an album without trying to conjure up past glories or one that would alienate their core base, while maintaining a wide eye on the future.
One place Def Leppard has found a resurrection and ultimately inspiration was out on the road; tens of thousands see them nightly for a nostalgic jolt to the membrane. I've seen a few of these shows and let me tell you, the band is at their peak of their powers as a live entity with the only downside being their set lists aren't as long or as adventurous as they should be. They've honed their chops on the road extensively since 2005 and as a result, they've taken that energy and forged it into what is now Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, an album that doesn't follow trends or previous glories, but finds the band comfortably within their skin churning out radio ready four-minute wonders that are definitively Def Leppard, even if the gloss and sheen isn't as bright.
I gave a positive review to their covers collection Yeah! a few years back and as I went back and listen to it, I must disclose that it doesn't hold up as well. Covers collections are nice stop gap releases, but ultimately are futile and no more than footnotes in anyone's career. However, one thing that the Yeah! album and the tour did was allow the band get back to their roots. As they wrote and demoed songs the band was bursting with creativity and ultimately liberating an angry jolt of retrograde rock that takes a page from the Kinks, T-Rex and Badfinger with a dash of classic Def Leppard throw in for good measure.
Right from the opening guitar acrobatics of "Go" the band erupts and assails your senses with a sensational barrage of guitars that never relent. The album is the most organic affair of new material they have committed to tape since their debut On Through The Night. There is a severe emphasis on guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, who don't just serve their jobs admirably but lead the tidal wave of rejuvenation, throwing themselves into a limitless vista surrounded by pure melodic energy. Next to the Rolling Stones, Collen and Campbell are arguably one of the most essential one-two guitar pairings in the annals of rock. The dual guitars are the foundation of Def Leppard and here they are at the peak of their powers fighting for the credit they deserve. "C'Mon, C'Mon" has a groove that is unblinkingly strident, while "Tomorrow" captures magic in a bottle with an incandescent chorus that hits a sweet spot in your aural senses. "Only The Good Young" is a clear single and surprisingly it's penned solely by Vivian Campbell who also contributed the brilliant single "Work It Out" from 1996's Slang, and once again Campbell's penned a dreamy chorus accentuated by an inviting tall wall of natural instrumentation makes this one instantly engrained in your brain. The first single, "Nine Lives" is cut from a vintage Leppard cloth while remaining fresh and relevant. "Cruise Control" spews forth the dark power of the band collectively, while "Hallucinate" showcases the driving interlock of guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell's bone cutting guitar licks. "Bad Actress" is performed in a ferocious breakneck fashion, while "Come Undone" swaggers with vintage intensity while the album's final track "Gotta Let It Go" is dispensed with a flashy pulverizing chorus. Needless to say, guitars rule the day on Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. The only track on the album I'd deem a throwaway would be the ballad "Love" penned by bassist Rick Savage. It's not an entirely bad song, but it feels forced and out of place with the other songs.
Rolling Stone rewarded the album 2.5 stars and upon reading the review, I largely agreed with it having only listened to the album one time. I'm glad to say my first impression was wrong as this is an album that elevates its potential with each listen revealing its true colors. The album's endurance and triumph will largely depend on how bad this band wants to fight for these songs. Will they perform them with a vengeance on the concert stage or will all of them be relegated to the sidelines in favor of songs like "Women" and "Rock of Ages". This is a collection of songs that are screaming with a vengeance to be performed live. Fans that pay money for an evening of nostalgia would, without a doubt, walk away from the concert not just impressed with these songs, but consider them contemporary classics which are deserving of their time in the sun. Def Leppard has constructed an album that generates groundswells of sound of a band not just in perfect harmony, but unison as well. Songs From The Sparkle Lounge does not find the band veering too far into the past and not aiming for future glories, instead it finds them perfectly in the here and now.
CD Info and Links
Def Leppard - Songs From The Sparkle Lounge