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We all know how Def Leppard lost it over the years. Their first two albums, On Through the Night and High 'n' Dry, were actually more or less enjoyable; Pyromania and Hysteria had listenable tracks; hell, even Adrenalize had White Lightning. But ever since Adrenalize, it all went down the drain. Whatever they've recorded since was unforgivably bad. The album I'm reviewing now, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, is the worst of the bunch so far.
I'm not even sure how to musically classify this album. Is it pop? Rock? Alternative? Well, it IS a complete mess, I can tell you that much. From the first note of 'Go' to the end of the album, all I heard was some ill-defined mess. You may not believe it, but I also heard some Linkin Park influence in places, mostly in 'Go'. Too bad I'm not joking. It already sounds appalling, doesn't it? But wait, it gets worse, so keep reading.
Joe Elliott's voice has completely decayed over the years, that's a fact. But here, he's as bad as ever. Now here's where it becomes even worse: on 'Nine Lives', we hear someone else, Tim McGraw. You may now ask, 'Who the fuck is HE?!' All you have to know is that he's a "country" singer. You noticed I put the word "country" in quotation marks, because I'm using the word sarcastically; in reality, a lot of modern country music is basically just lousy pop music with an "accent". Hank Williams III plays actual country music, so did Johnny Cash. Tim McGraw does lousy pop music with an "accent", at least as far as I'm concerned. There, that's two singers that should've retired long ago (Elliott) or shouldn't have started in the first place (McGraw). In short, it was a painful experience.
OK, that takes care of vocals, but music doesn't fare better. I understand that the drummer has only one arm and is still active despite everything, so I'll spare him. But what about the riffs and solos? Yeah, you'll hear solos here and there, but they're present literally for the sake of being present. In other words, they're not good at all. It's like the band wanted to say, 'Dude, we're still, like, a rock band', but simply having solos means jack shit, because solos are supposed to contribute to the quality of a track, not to just be there and, so to say, look around. The riffs are, as a rule, simple riffs that a beginner can quickly learn to play, so no surprizes there. The riffs by Def Leppard have been simple from the start, but as the time passed, it seems the band decided do stop even trying to come up with anything that requires some actual skill, with this album being a perfect example. Steve Clark must be rolling in his grave. Vivian Campbell shouldn't have joined Def Leppard, because he's capable of much more; after all, he cooperated with Dio.
Lyrics have to be mentioned; as you may have guessed it, in a bad light. Def Leppard lyrics have been bad for a long, long time, but they reach new lows here. After you read the chorus of 'Go', you'll agree that many pop musicians refrain from making something that stupid, no matter how stupid a track can otherwise be:
You hide behind your mask of desperation
I won't surrender to the last temptation
And here's some more, this time from 'C'mon, C'mon':
C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon
C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon
C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon
Lyrics on Hysteria and Adrenalize, no matter how lame they were, still took more thought to create and write down. What we hear on this album... I just have no words to truly describe how retarded they are. Even the fact they wrote 'C’mon' instead of 'Come on' is offensive to normal people.
'Bad Actress' is the song that sucks the least here, but is still worth jack shit. On Hysteria or Adrenalize, it would be filler at best (it wouldn’t even appear on Pyromania). Still, due to other tracks being abominable, it’s the ‘highlight’ of the album.
All in all, this album is abominable and there is no reason whatsoever to listen to this, for it is nothing but 39 minutes that would be completely wasted if you dared to give this a listen. I, for one, couldn’t listen to the album in its entirety. I’m giving it one point out of a hundred, but only because I have a feeling Def Leppard will fuck everything up in the future even more. Do not touch this under any circumstances.
There's something a little surreal about listening to this album. Def Leppard, one of the flagship pop-metal bands of the hairy 80's, is here attempting to make a few bucks and stave off mid-life crises by aping the popular music of the 21st century as best as they can.
Mission accomplished, I guess.
In some sense, I can't be too mad at them for such a blatant, artless stab at singles with the young people. After all, as far as I can tell they've been doing the same thing since 1983 at least, and I'm not (that) ashamed to say that I think Pyromania and even Hysteria are pretty fun. It just strikes me as an extremely boneheaded move, since their apparent target demographic of tweens raised on the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber will have no interest in listening to anybody old enough for their parents to have boned to.
The album art is dumb and derivative but inoffensive, and only the title of the album gives any indication of the wussness that lies within. "The Sparkle Lounge"?? From the beginning the lyrics are more vapid than anything Leppard has ever attempted before ("C'mon C'mon" is one of the lamest song titles I've ever heard, and that's literally the chorus.) We get other choruses like "Hallucinate! In every word you say" or "I just found out, I can't wait until tomorrow comes", which are just as One Direction-ey as they look written down. These and, perhaps even more so, "Only the Good Die Young" would be right at home on the Disney Channel. The instrumentals are consistent with that level of quality and integrity, with no hooks or riffs or anything memorable to speak of. Plenty of schmaltzy backing vocals, though. There are hints of pop-country everywhere, too, right up to a cameo and writing credits by Tim McGraw (I guess that's not really a "hint" at that point.) They could have stuck "She's My Kind of Rain" in the middle of the album and I may not have noticed. "Go" sounds a bit heavier and angstier, in a little bit of a Linkin Park sort of way, though with a chorus like "Go! Just go! Just etc." it's offending even fewer people.
"Bad Actress" is a bit of a surprise. It's nothing special, and on a better Leppard album it would be one of the filler tracks, but it sounds like their only sincere effort at actually rocking. We're suddenly up-tempo here, and there's even a decent guitar solo. I guess they figured they ought to throw a bone to their fanbase somewhere, as if to say, "Hey, we didn't alienate you with the first eight songs, so here's something you might not hate. Enjoy." Don't get me wrong, it's a forgettable track, but it's still the best and the closest to their roots they get on this album. Although they don't end on this less sour note, instead keeping up the torture for two more songs. The last track, "Gotta Let It Go", sounds like Nickelback or something. By the end, nothing sticks in my head, except for "Only the Good Die Young" which I'd rather have forgotten too.
"Songs From the Sparkle Loung" really is an album which can appeal to nobody, as it's both alienating to Def Leppard's hard-rock-oriented fans and unlikely to ever catch on with the crowd of shallow 13-year-old girls it's gunning for. It's obvious what they were thinking, and that unfortunately they weren't thinking very hard.
Alongside this album, YouTube suggested "Taylor Swift - The Holiday Collection" at the top of their recommendations list. That should tell you all you need to know.
Def Leppard, we need to talk. You were just great guys, you had a lot of potential and talent, so why don't you use it? You've abandoned all your good riffs and hooks and all your good solos in place of trying to stick with the trends. But for what? Did you think that you'd make more and more money off of producing putrid albums that only a One Direction fan would find appealing? You know that your fans would rather clean all of the bathrooms at the Mall of America with their tongues than have to endure this pure pile of fecal matter that is "Songs from the Sparkle Lounge".
The biggest problem with your album is its sound. It sounds like some lousy modern pop rock band like Train rather than the magnificent NWOBHM band that you guys used to be. "Tomorrow" and "Only the Good Die Young" are just two examples of how you guys tried to sound trendy and hip, like 50+ year old Jonas Brothers, but you end up sounding absolutely horrendous. In choruses those ones, Joe tries to imitate the high-pitched pop-like voices of the young (and often lip-synching) singers of 2008 when teenage girls were just drooling over Fall Out Boy. This results in much of the songs on your album being bland and quite forgettable.
Another big problem is the fact that you tended to join forces with superstar celebrities. In this case, you had, of all people, Tim McGraw on "Nine Lives". Why? Why else? More money! "If we had a big name like Tim McGraw on our album, EVERYBODY'D wanna buy it!" Is that what you were thinking? "Nine Lives" is an awful clash between a shoddy country singer and a band that gave us "On through the Night". The only combination worse than this is Lou Reed and Metallica's infamous "Lulu" album. You don't want to get compared to Metallica, do you?
Problem number three; your choruses are uncreative and dull. With your earlier albums like "Hysteria" and "Adrenalize", at least you had some choruses that were poetic and not just a few words repeated over and over ( a few examples being, "C'mon, c'mon c'mon c'mon" and "Go, just go, just go"). Repeated lyrics in choruses are typical trademarks in lousy pop music, not rock. I guess you wanted those teenyboppers to sing along with your music. Well it ain't working 'cos they're certainly not buying your album! Even they know better than to do that!
"Bad Actress" is the only song on this album that comes even close to rock. It's got a nice hook, but even that can't save this album from going into the $5 bin at the local Best Buy. Guys, you've got Vivian Campbell, a guy who used to play with Dio, on your side, why don't you use him to his full potential? Oh, wait, that's right.....MORE MONEY!!!! "Who cares about riffs and solos when there's MONEY to be made? This album HAS to sell!" Is that your logic?
This album is a sad ending to your career in making real music. You could have been one of the great bands of the NWOBHM, but instead, you had to take the easy way out. Your buddy, Steve Clark, is spinning in his grave knowing that you stooped so low to make this. Could you get any worse than this? 'Cos after listening to this awful CD (which would make a better drink coaster), I've decided to categorize a disease in which the symptoms include straying from musical roots in the pursuit of charting and making money. I shall call it "Def Leppard's Disease", cos there's no way anybody could take you guys seriously after this album. I'm done with you. Goodbye.
I remember watching the infamous rock band comedy “Airheads” for the first time not long ago and being taken aback by a dialogue between Brendan Frazier and Joe Mantenga’s characters. Mantenga, who plays this rock DJ whose station has been taken hostage by Frazier and his band in hopes of getting their demo played on the air, gives the guys a lecture on how today’s music just say anything relevant. Frazier brilliantly responds in a classic fit of sarcasm “Oh yeah, Purple Haze says something”. Now I’m not one to pick on good old Jimi, but the lyrics to that song were pretty nonsensical. Nonetheless, at least a lot of the older greats were able to cover up their drug induced gibberish with fresh and entertaining music, which is more than I can say for Def Leppard’s recent pile of dribble.
It’s one thing to write a bunch of songs about banging some chick or partying the way that the Scorpions and Deep Purple often did, it’s another to do it in the most lyrically vapid way possible. They didn’t even both with putting the lyrics into this sparkly little self-aggrandizing picture booklet that came with the CD, and why should they? All you’d wind up with is a few pages of aimless syllables guising as verses, paving the way to such intellectually stimulating refrains as “Go, just go” and “C’mon C’mon”. Being the rockers that they are, they foolishly attempt the occasional song focusing on social commentary, coming off as utterly witless and stale in the process I might add.
Maybe the music isn’t really all that bad, right? Unfortunately no, when this thing isn’t plodding on 2 or 3 really cliché ideas, the band reaches once more into the dried up well that once was “Pyromania” and throw in a few lines plagiarizing “Photograph”. In the past, even when overtly copying themselves they’ve managed to sound good, but here the guitar production is so hollow and alternative rock sounding that even a familiar minimalist riff lifted off of one of their classics doesn’t come across at all. They even try to lift a few ideas from Styx and Zepplin unsuccessfully with their token ballad “Love”, which ends up throwing in maybe one or two good acoustic lines at the beginning before settling into a really boring set of verses, headlined by Joe Elliot’s decaying vocal chords.
There’s only one song on here that really failed to inspire my annoyance and desire for a quicker finger at the skip button, and that is the last one “Gotta Let Go”. It’s the only song on here that really even attempts to rock out, and succeeds in having the only real worthwhile chorus in the whole album. They avoid too much mixing of recycled ideas with alternative rock garbage and simply put together a solid, driving guitar riff and do their usual multi-vocal layering to compensate for there not being much lead guitar activity. If Vivian Campbell truly hated the technical demands he was under in the early 80s, he definitely chose the right group of hacks to play beginner blues guitar solos with.
No this album doesn’t say much, not even when it is attempting to do so. But it’s okay because we have nice pictures of the band framed on the inside of the booklet, a laundry list of thank you notes to all the people who made this piece of crap possible, and of course, plenty of sparkling stars to symbolize what star power can fool the common consumer into buying. But more experienced and individualistic ears will tend to agree with Ronnie Dio. This is indeed “A good band to have diarrhea with”, because the discomfort that this puts on such ears will quickly take the attention of their owner away from his ailing stomach.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on November 29, 2008.