With money still undoubtedly pouring in from sports arenas and strip clubs (well, mostly the latter), not to mention several blockbuster tours with the likes of Kiss, Foreigner, Tesla and others, Def Leppard has no urgency when it comes to making new music. The dreary nineties are ancient history, and in the past decade, nostalgia has done wonders for eighties rock’s biggest exports. Bret Michaels and Tommy Lee somehow remain sex symbols in their middle age, and forty and fifty-somethings are filling arena seats in droves to relive their youth with the music that defined it. One of the indisputable fixtures atop eighties rock’s Mount Rushmore, Def Leppard has the ability to continually capitalize on what they did more than a quarter century ago. Furthermore, it is well documented that bands of Def Lep’s ilk visibly struggle to sell new music, with many of their fan bases fixated solely on the classic era. Tesla’s most recent release Simplicity, for instance, sold under 15,000 copies in its first week.
Thus, Def Leppard’s brand new self-titled studio album can only be approached with one assumption in mind: they made it ‘cause they wanted to. According to guitarist Phil Collen, who has called the album the band’s best since 1987’s sales behemoth Hysteria, this free-spirited approach is precisely the reason it is self-titled. In 2015, Def Leppard represents uncharted territory for the band in terms of creative liberty and a lack of industry pressure.
The band may be on their eleventh studio album, but Def Leppard is defined by three. On last summer’s co-headlining run with Kiss, all but two of the songs on the setlist (“Let’s Get Rocked” from 1992’s Adrenalized and “Two Steps Behind” from the Retro Active compilation) were pulled from High ‘N’ Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria, the three of which comprise a holy trinity of Def Leppard’s career, the brilliance of which cannot be overstated.
It is, therefore, far from shocking that recreating the greatness of these iconic releases is a central focus on Def Leppard, the follow-up to 2008’s decent but uneven Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. First single and album opener “Let’s Go” is a shameless yet fairly successful reprisal of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, with frontman Joe Elliot delivering a commanding hook, accompanied by mammoth backing vocals and a stadium-ready stomp – in essence, Def Leppard circa 1987. The jubilant, upbeat “Dangerous” and the bouncy, riff-driven “Man Enough” maintain the momentum, with the former presenting itself as a blend of Hysteria cuts “Armageddon It” and Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.
Several tracks do hint at the High ‘N’ Dry and Pyromania eras of the band, most notably the straightforward “Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted” and the uptempo “Forever Young”, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence is entirely absent. Those hoping for “Another Hit and Run”, “Stagefright”, or “Mirror, Mirror”-type riffing are advised to look elsewhere.
The band does take several welcome creative risks that diversify the LP and increase its merit. The bluesy acoustic experimentation of “Battle of My Own” pays off in spades, and “Blind Faith”’s unconventional balladry is the perfect way to close things out, with ominous clean guitar arpeggios weaving their way into an acoustic bridge and some tasteful layering of string instruments. “Is it really all a matter of time?” asks Elliot as the album comes to a close.
Sonically, little differs from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. Like its predecessor, Def Leppard benefits from a crisp, radio-ready mix, a crunchy yet crystal clear guitar tone, and an enviable snare drum sound from one-armed wonder Rick Allen. Rick Savage’s thick basslines also cut through exceptionally well on tracks like “Man Enough” and “Sea of Love”, which contains a note-heavy bass fill in the bridge section.
The album could certainly do without the bland “Invincible”, as well as “Energized”, which is anything but its namesake, dragging drab melodies across a repetitive, synth-based backdrop. Furthermore, the excellent aforementioned “Blind Faith” more than pulls it weight in the ballad department, and while the traditional “Last Dance” and the “Hysteria”-esque “We Belong” are both satisfying, the inclusion of all three is slightly excessive.
But Def Leppard succeeds more often than it fails. Predictable yet enjoyable, with just enough diversity to stand alone in the band’s discography , it more than justifies its existence. While nostalgia-driven acts like Def Leppard often struggle to generate interest in new music, this is a worthwhile listen, particularly for fans of Hysteria and the lighter moments on Pyromania.