3. You're So Beautiful
5. Long, Long Way to Go
6. Four Letter Word
7. Torn to Shreds
8. Love Don't Lie
11. Girl Like You
12. Let Me Be the One
|Recent Def Leppard (90s):
|Older Def Leppard (80s):
High N Dry (1981)
On Through the Night (1980)
|A history of Def Leppard is not really
necessary. Their antics and tragedies throughout the decadent 1980s have been well
documented on such programs as the enormously popular VH-1's "Behind the Music"
and a made-for-tv movie. The 1990s on the other hand have been a mixed bag for the Leps.
Very quickly, we had "Hysteria"'s followup "Adrenalize", which was
more than OK and a worthy followup, "RetroActive" rehashed their B sides, all
well and good and very listenable, "Slang" in 1996 fell off the deep end, taking
the music in a totally different direction that was decidedly not metal or AOR, but some
kind of mainstream hybrid that no one really seemed to like. "Euphoria" in 1999
was a promise of a new day, but rockers were shot in the heart by the pop-like tunes and
when word started swirling around a year or so ago of a return to 'glory days' sound
(which means "Hysteria") on the next cd, "X" (as in the Roman numeral
Ten, not the letter x), hearts were set aflutter. Of course they claimed the same for
"Euphoria", which was true in some ways and most definitely not in others.
Then the rumors started popping up, all kinds of gibberish about the Backstreet Boys producers (surely not! have they sold their souls??) hopping aboard and other ridiculousness started circling. So what if they are big Dio fans, they write *pop* music. Then again, you know who wrote Britney Spear's multi million blockbuster, "Baby One More Time" right? Martin White (oops Max Martin now), ex-singer of Sweden's clever Kiss/Extreme funk 'AOR' outfit, It's Alive. So any musician is a candidate for abandoning ship and joining 'the Dark Side'. And we began to wonder what this album was going to shape up to be afterall...if these rumors were true (and they were) then what direction could they be headed in?
There's only one logical answer: and that's pop.
So "X" is a pop cd. Fortunately its a damn good one. How they managed to go from the NWOBHM hard rock of "High N Dry" and "Pyromania" to Top 40 music is another story indeed, but for this band, it works, better than most others that have attempted the mainstream leap and failed miserably. The only other band comparable that has managed this is Aerosmith. Comparisions can probably be drawn between the two now until the end of time (and whoever thought that would happen back in the mid 80s when it was "Walk This Way" vs. "Rock of Ages").
Musically they are all over the place. There's tidbits of their past cropping up in the sound: "Slang", "Adrenalize", "Euphoria" plus boy band pop, Euro-pop and more. There's danceable ditties, acoustic strumming ballads, sing-along radio friendly tunes and moody modern rockers. All the bases are covered, linked only by the core Lep sound that is somehow planted firmly in every song, fed various influences and left to bloom brilliantly on its own. You could say its the maturing process. Bands have to grow and this sunflower has turned its attention from the metal sun to the commericial dark side of the moon. Those that can't accept anything but "Hysteria" or "Pyromania"-ish material will be disappointed, disillusioned and lost. "X" is none of that, only tiny flashbacks can be heard in the processed pop music of the now era.
But if you can get over that hurdle, there's plenty to enjoy. The guitars are rather subdued, so not much wild shredding can be expected from Vivian Campbell or Phil Collen. Rick Allen's drums are spot on as usual, with either a natural 'Earthy" sound that comes across just super with the high tech big budget production pushing it to the forefront. Rick Savage gets some bass workouts here and there that even turned my subwoofer to pumping nicely. Joe Elliot is wonderful as always, one of the most unique vocalists you'll ever hear, there's no mistaking him for someone else. Not even the slightest bit of a generic chap here. These guys have been performing together in their current lineup for ten years, and the 'core' of Joe, Rick and Rick for two decades plus, so its not even necessary to say that they simply gel. The songs are fairly tight despite their variety and poppish origins. Alot of effort was put into writing them, and multiple lavish layers are presented for us to pick through just like in the olden days.
This pretty much wraps up what the new Def Leppard is in a nutshell. That being a hard rock band gone in the 'modern' direction with one toe still testing the pop waters to see if its safe on the other side. Indian arrangements (ah those Aerosmith comparisions!) spruce up the sound giving it an ethnic rock quality (whut?) They seem strange, but yet fitting amongst this playground of smooth drums that sit tightly in an even flowing groove, soft guitars with the ends all frizzy and heavier chorus that walks the path of darkness. The warped frayed guitar chords that are loudly played up right before the dives into the depth of the chorus are absolute heart skittering delights. An unexpected hook that works. Despite all the heavier areas, there's this laidback vibe that dominates throughout...
..and is continued in full force through this 'kick back and relax' pop rock track. Yeah it could have been an N'SYNC or Backdoor Boys song, afterall the poppy trio of Aldeheim, Carlsson, & Martin wrote this thing. Its likeable anyway, no matter who wrote it. The chorus is sweet and mixed up to the forefront while the verses kind of slide back into the consciousness, hovering in their own mellow way. The parroting echo of "over" answering Elliot or "speak without..." adds depth in Leppard-ish gang vocal fashion.
03.] "You're So Beautiful"
Another useful chorus that draws the listener in and holds them tightly. This one is without a doubt, 'rock'. Lots of effects, a very modern-ish sound, and most importantly its extremely catchy, the essential ingredient for composing a winner. This onei reminds me of some of the stuff from TNT's "Transistor" for its roughed up pop rock approach.
Remiscent of the acoustic version of "Two Steps Behind" in its opening, then slipping into an absolutely awesome chorus with little warning. The backup vocals swarm in like bees unleashed from a hive, buzzing and booming somewhere admist the back layers, lying await underneath the main vocalist. Elliot is raspy and smooth all at once, the personality that holds it together, that and the acoustic, which pushes the track along beautifully. This is a surprising smash and worthy of the Lep name.
05.] "Long, Long Way to Go"
Everything one wants in a radio ballad: a gentle, relaxed tempo that is fuzzy soft, like drifting on your own personal cloud of sound, with so many sound layers to offer support. The violin mixes nicely with the lightly lapping acoustic, just as if the two instruments were born to be together and Joe's gorgeous voice laid ever so emotive on the top. Not as catchy as their instant 80s hookfest 'power' ballads (and this one contains little power) but on repeated listens this slowly grows to become a favorite.
06.] "Four Letter Word"
Instant combustion on that chorus, it does become overused but let's not quibble over the little things. The smoking whip cracking riff smacks this one into shape, leaving long lasting red marking burns. The verses prance with hard rock know-how and by the time the quick n dirty solo comes around (blink and you miss it) the guitars should be forming blisters. There's some "Make Love Like a Man"/"Personal Property" influences lurking around here too. All is NOT lost!
07.] "Torn to Shreds"
A dark depressing ballad, looming lumbering guitars....and...ah its something totally different indeed! "I don't wanna fall in love!" Does anyone ever? Ah perhaps... another soft pop atmosphere with acoustic so plushy you could reach out and just give it a nice big cuddly squeeze. The chorus is a different beast, being absolutely a monsterous explosion instead of the shy slip of a sound the verses embodies. Filled in to overflowing with sound and a beautiful short instrumental break lifts the song into 'ethereal' status before its love lost ending that sends the song off just as it began. Another killer.
08.] "Love Don't Lie"
A bit more modern than most anything else, its even infested the chorus. Maybe its just too straightforward and would have played out better than being sandwiched between a modern rock fire/ice track and a high energy Euro-pop pounder. B quality bonus track fodder.
I like some Euro-pop (shh, don't tell anybody OK?) so this one I was able to handle with ease, although I can imagine most past fans of the band cringing in terror at the description that follows this one. "Gravity" is a swinging high-tech dance number that will leave those that adored Mutt's baby from the previous album, the song called "All Night", begging for more. Unfortunately its a one-off experiment, but works amazingly well. A warped opening, brimming over with effects is twirled around right into the meat of the song, that bounces along with a highly danceable beat and Elliot switching between half rapped sections and tradititional singing. An awesome hybrid that's catchy as hell.
Oh no.. alternative and...distorted vocals. Two big 'no no's especially when used in abundance, just look at "Slang". It was modern, trendy alternative rock. With a 'New Age' Indian twist. It also sucked. Bits and pieces (namely the "Coming down, coming down, coming down" bit) has that "From the Inside" nipping feel that flies by the eardrums even though the rest of the song threatens to drown it in modern rockness. It just doesn't work. Its too much like "Slang" and painfully repetitive. You'll hope the demons get them before its over.
11.] "Girl Like You"
The "Slang"-ish stuff continues, tragically bleeding over into "Girl Like You". Its up tempo and has one single saving grace: the fluffy acoustic/vocal driven bridge that oozes like a melodic masterpiece. But this brief moment of glory is shot down in a blood letting heap by the over effect laden chorus and all the fuzzy distorted guitar that ruins any hope of wanting to replay this thing ever again. A few seconds of AOR fluffiness is not enough to save an almost three minute song.
12.] "Let Me Be the One"
A forgotten relative to "Long Long Way to Go", this one obviously didn't have the same kind of care and love that was lavished on the earlier ballad. Its decent, yea, but it fails to communicate on an emotional level. It does make nice background music. The elevator music/cheap restraunt mood music/'adult contemporary' vibe is overwhelming. Fire it up turn off the lights and it becomes a nice forgettable piece of ear candy that's easy to fall asleep to, much like fluffy shirt John Tesh and his "The Piano Ballad Collection Vol. 87". It can be described the same as Kenny G's (or John Tesh) music: flat and not very exciting, yet pleasant.
Ahh a track from "Retro-Active" has been left over for our enjoyment! Maybe not literally but by the sounds of it, it certainly could have come from that disc of B SIdes. After the last three stagnant fidgety snoozers its a welcome breath of fresh air. The whole vibe is similiar to stuff like "Desert Song" and "Only After Dark". That means a big lavish chorus, bold and full of warmth, verses that overflow with guitar riffs, giant melodies and more gang vocalists than you can shake a stick at. You can never have too many layers of sound! The guitar play smokes with its clashing textures and feels, its the kind of thing we have waited all album to hear them break out into! Collen and Vivian rip it up, their distinct guitar sounds swirling in a vortex of dazzling electric wonder. The only drawback is the big "what if" that looms after the song's closure... that being...what if the entire cd were like this?
As was stressed in the opening comments of the album, "X" is not a consistant return to any of the 80s sounds, but rather a progression into the future. It tests the waters of many different genres of mainstream music without ever settling on one particular style. There's so much to grow to love here including "Scars" and "Four Letter Word" that flirt dangerously with the more heavily melodic rock styled Leps of the past, "Long Long Way to Go" a tightly written ballad that is sure to become classic, "Torn to Shreds" is a brooding favorite with its booming chorus and "Gravity" worthy of down n dirty dancing and loving every pop rock minute of it. But average to poor material such as the overly alterna "Girl Like You" and "Cry" mar the disc's surface with their pathetic presence. With thirteen tracks, you can skip a few and still have what would be a full album of worthy tunes for any other band. The worst of the batch is when they twist into the alternative direction and start laying on the distortion. This idea was bad when it was popular and now that its kind of fallen to the wayside in the commericial radio loop, it doesn't need to be resurrected by a beloved aging English NWOBHM band. They are obviously trying desperately to stay relevant, hiring on big shot pop producers and tinkering with their sound moving it further from the realm of hard rock and more into the dreaded Top 40 direction, the wasteland of one hit wonders and flash in the pan outfits with short shelf lives that everyone jokes about later. It sells records temporarily but will it gain them the kind of listener base that will return in four years (or more) when they finally manage to crank another album out? The industry is finicky, its best to concentrate on producing solid material than that which is fancy and fashionable. So tiime will only tell how Def Leppard fares, but judging by the way I have been laughed at for listening to parts of this, I doubt it will gain them many new fans who are loyal to 80s 'pure' hard rock.