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Def Leppard, coming off of the spectacular Adrenalize misfire, decided to regroup and have a little fun in the studio. As a result, the band went into the vault in Sheffield (or wherever it is) and shined up some of their unreleased material and B-sides and shipped 'em out to the public. Half-assed cash-in, right? Nope. Turns out that the songs the Leps had elected not to release beat the high holy hell out of most of the stuff they had. And here's the kicker: this sucker is their hardest since Pyromania, with a nice handful of rock solid metal cuts and nimble glam rockers. The thing is polished too, one of the best knob-jobs (hee-hee) I've heard, but there is none of the insanely sugary Hysteria sound. This feels like a more mature High 'n' Dry, youthful enthusiasm tempered by years of experience. And I'll be damned if it isn't their best since that classic.
Def Lep picked up Dio's Vivian Campbell to replace Steve Clarke (R.I.P), and it'd be folly to say that Collen and Campbell can't play a mean guitar. Rick Allen seems less dependent on computerized beats, and Elliott's voice has aged well, better than his somewhat frightening appearance of late. Sav is... unremarkable as usual. Smiley bastard...
Just to show you that the band does still have balls, they kick things off with the roiling "Desert Song", the band locking into a mean groove over an eastern-style riff. The solo rips, and Joe gives us some convincing rock 'n' roll 'tude. He struts, he preens, and he snarls his way through this tale of heat-crazed pilgrims and sand-blasted wastes. To be honest, this song alone blows 95% of the material on the last two albums to smithereens. "Fractured Love" is even better, chugging metal like we've rarely heard from these guys. The riff is just hotter than hell, and I love how the band really ratchets up the tension before it kicks in. Just a great payoff after the tight 'n' taut verses is the chorus, further prove that hooks can rock and Def Leppard can do anthems in their sleep.
"Action" was a minor hit for Canadian hard rock (later hair) act Helix, and the Def Lep version blows it away. Not that I'm really a great fan of this song, this track showing off the glammy roots that lead to the extremely melodic direction the band took, something that prevented them from becoming the next AC/DC or Priest. Still, undeniably energetic, and the solo is perhaps the best on the album. "Two Steps Behind" is one of the bands premier ballads, just kicking the shit out of "Love Bites", "Heaven Is", "Love & Affection", etc.etc. ad fucking nauseum. Just a simple acoustic guitar and a heartfelt performance by Joe. The electric version is the weaker of the two, but it's got a pretty good solo in its favour.
Now, this next set is probably the weak spot on the otherwise splendid record. The skid begins with "She's Too Tough" an annoying glam rocker, a repetitive and simply irritating number. The crap backing vocals don't help either. The insipid catchiness of the thing will either have you singing along happily or getting ready to claw your own eyes out. Oh, the embarrassment you'll feel when you realize you can still hear it. "Miss You in a Heartbeat" is just a weaker "Two Steps Behind", completely unnecessary once, a real head-scratcher to include it twice, but THREE fucking times?! It isn't bad, it just isn't that good. "Only After Dark" is an amusing cover of an old Mick Ronson song, one of those tunes I've got a love/hate relationship with (see: the entire Hysteria record). On one hand it's happily catchy, the vocals hilarious, the riff jumpy and fun. And yet, man, I'm usually good with dealing with people insulting my music, but this crap is actually an embarrassment should anyone catch me listening to it. There's no defending this!
Luckily we are redeemed by some seriously solid metal. "Ride into the Sun" is one of the most interesting songs here, one of the ye olde Lep tracks from their first EP. It's old skewl. And dude, the new version rocks. The guitars are a force of nature, and that boogie-metal bite is the kind of pure sound that just gets in your blood. This is a wonderful groove with some mighty metal heft. In fact, this track alone makes X even more insulting than it already was. "From the Inside" is a sublime bit of moody folk, one of the darkest songs in their catalogue, effortlessly catchy but with a solid message. This folksy tune reminds me of Megadeth's "Use the Man" actually, except with the novel idea of seeing events through the eyes of the insidious narcotic.
Here's the last rocker on the record folks, and it's a doozy. "Ring of Fire" is not a Johnny Cash cover (awww, shucks), but rather a western-tinged little speed-rock diddler. It's kinda unremarkable, but I still think of it as a godsend considering what came after. "I Wanna Be Your Hero" is spoo, just another limp-wristed ballad without the charm of their quality limp-wristed ballads.
So, in summation, great fucking record. Lots of peaks and valleys as with most Leppard material, but the peaks are so high that the valleys are forgivable. This may be the last Lep record I review unless I borrow one or more of the others, but I've heard enough of them to give you a little roadmap of the rest:
Slang - Underrated and experimental. Good-ish record, unjustly ignored. Still, a lot of bad, bad ideas.
Euphoria - Crap. This is like Hysteria, had Hysteria been irredeemably awful. So Adrenalize II in other words.
X - A slap in the face. This is soppy pop crap at an unheard-of level. When you hire the guys who help write for N*Sync, brother, something is terribly wrong. AVOID.
Hey! - Disposable fun.
Stand-Outs: "Desert Song", "Fractured Love", "Ride into the Sun"