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Didn't see that coming! - 83%

Brainded Binky, June 28th, 2014

Whoa! I never expected this to come out of a band that came up with "I Wanna Touch U"! I can't believe that Def Leppard has actually created some good stuff in the 90's! "Retro-Active" is a compilation, but it's way more entertaining than anything released by the band in the late 80's and early 90's. Are there ballads involved with it? Of course there are! Are there radio friendly songs on here? Of course there are! Then why isn't this album worthy of being used as a mini Frisbee for your dog? Cos if you listen beyond the cliches Def Leppard's known for, there's actually some incredible songs on here as well!

This album stands out from Def Leppards more recent releases, cos the band uses something they hadn't thought of in a long time; effort. "Ride into the Sun" features a chugging, NWOBHM-like riff that certainly takes more effort to play than "Let's Get Rocked", the main riff of which only consists of a few peppy-sounding power chords. The main reason for this is that "Ride into the Sun" is actually a newer version of a song of that title that appeared on the band's very first EP. It shows that Def Leppard hasn't completely abandoned their roots, at least not on "Retro-Active". Another notable song on here is "Ring of Fire", which starts off with a fantastic hook that contains a rapidly-played arpeggio combined with some power chords. It also delivers a driving, hard rocking sound that carries the song into making it into an awesome piece of headbanging goodness, something the band should have focused on more when making music.

And then there's "From the Inside", a song which really raises an eyebrow. It's not horrible, by any means, it's just an acoustic song that has an Irish-style riff as well as a tin whistle and a mandolin. I guess it's one of the more experimental songs that Def Leppard has done, cos you certainly wouldn't hear a tin whistle in a song like "Heaven Is". Sure, the band members themselves didn't take up the mandolin, but it's the mandolin, along with the other instruments, that make "From the Inside" unique in its own special way. Speaking of being unique, there is the opening track "Desert Song". Diehard Def Leppard fans who are familiar with the synthesizer-tinged "classics" like "Love Bites" and "Women" would be shocked to hear that "Desert Song" is not what they'd expect to hear from them. Instead, we get a hook that carries a spicy, middle-eastern-style vibe reminiscent of Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon" as well as a chorus that isn't annoying, but actually powerful and pleasing to listen to. "Desert Song" is only one of many surprises we get on "Retro-Active".

One of these surprises is the fact that even though there are some of those hated aspects of Def Leppard's music, they aren't as bad they would normally be if they were on any of their studio albums. Even the radio-friendly-sounding songs sound a lot better than you'd think they would. "She's Too Tough" is a song that the band wrote for the Canadian glam band Helix, and the radio-friendliness of it shows. Despite that, it manages to be WAY more appetizing than "Heaven Is". Sure, the song has a somewhat repetitive chorus, but Joe Elliot's vocals in this one display some of his finer singing qualities. His voice really soars when he hits those high notes, especially in the chorus, something you'd never hear in any song off "Hysteria". It's his singing on this song that actually makes it more fun to listen to, as opposed to....well, you get the picture.

As you may have guessed, there are ballads on this album, one of which is repeated not once, not twice, but three times, in different versions. I'm not kidding, people, three times, but more on that later. That ballad is "Miss You in a Heartbeat". The electric version is what you'd expect it to be, a glossy piece of crap meant to captivate the hearts of fangirls the world over and is really nothing special. However, the piano version is actually the most powerful version. It just consists of Joe Elliot's vocals and a piano. No glossy production, no robotic backing vocals, no drum machines, just piano, Joe Elliot, and emotion. With all of those gone, the song shows its true sentimental side without getting in your face so much. That is what I hear in a love song, not a computerized, syrupy, moneymaking song, but a more smooth and subtle song. Yes, the lyrics are cheesy, but they're more tolerable when in sung with the right instruments.

There are a few things about this album that I could complain about, one thing being the production quality. It's just about the same as every Def Leppard album post-"High 'n' Dry" with the computery-sounding drums and the robotic backing vocals. Not to mention the ballads that are repeated in different versions, which I feel is pointless. It's as if they felt they couldn't shoehorn the catchiness of them into us enough if they didn't repeat them. They could've just stuck with the piano version of "Miss You in a Heartbeat" and called it a day, cos we only need to hear it once. If they wanted to add more to the album, they could've made more awesome rockers like "Ride into the Sun" or "Ring of Fire". That would've made the album not only better, but also make it one of the finest that Def Leppard has ever created.

Repeated ballads aside, this is a far cry from anything Def Leppard has released before or since. It contains completely enjoyable, rocking songs that pay tribute to what they once were, and even the glam rock-style song "She's Too Tough" can be (somewhat) cool. It's a good album, but if Def Leppard had tweaked it and made those changes that I mentioned above, it would have been even better. Even so, it's a pleasant surprise for any of us annoyed by "Pour Some Sugar on Me".