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Derivatively brilliant

Def Leppard’s latest album, their eleventh in a storied career spanning 35 years, is a comeback of sorts. Instep lends an ear

Derivatively brilliant

Artist: Def Leppard

Album:         Def Leppard***1/2

Def(inset)At its core, there has always been a lot of calculation and painstaking polish to what Def Leppard do: sometimes when they are inspired, as on their multiplatinum albums Pyromania or Hysteria, the results can be amazing; at other times when inspiration is lacking, the results are none too brilliant (the Euphoria and X albums). Their last album, the uneven Songs from the Sparkle Lounge was released eight years ago and was a middling effort. Since then, they have dabbled with residencies in Las Vegas, tried to ride Taylor Swift’s coattails in a surprisingly entertaining collaboration and have generally mined their past glories as a nostalgia act. So in a sense, their latest album, their eleventh in a storied career spanning 35 years, is a comeback of sorts.

When the first single ‘Let’s Go’ hit the airwaves, one feared the worst. Catchy as it was, it was derivative in the worst way. So much of it reminded one of actual bits of songs from the Leppards’ past (mostly ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’) and one felt the Leps did not have anything new to say.

The eponymous album however puts all these fears to rest. It is a superlative collection of good to great songs in diverse styles and feels. Admittedly, each of the songs is in a way derivative as you point out bits in each having been clearly influenced by one or more of the Leps’ influences (Queen, Led Zeppelin, Beatles). However, given the fact that the said influences are not making great music these days, even derivative songs will do when they are as good as they are here. After a long while, since their experimental album Slang, Def Leppard have managed to be brilliant by letting themselves go off formula.

The peaks on the album are high and unexpected: ‘Man Enough’ is funky and rocks hard, reminding one of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. ‘We Belong’, an almost ballad, is the first time all the members of the band have gotten to sing on a song, and the song is all the more better for it. The poppiest song on the album ‘Energized’, could well have come off of their pop album X, but it is very much better than anything on that less uninspired album. It is best heard loud in a car driving fast, something the song itself suggests you do as well: (“I get to feed the need for speed/ .. Radial Philosophy”).

The most surprising song on the album is ‘Last Dance’, which is a stunning ballad more in the vein of their own ‘White Lightning’ but even better. Lyrically, it shows a surprising degree of vulnerability and melancholy from a good-time band, querying if this is ‘the Last Dance’ for them (“Is this our last chance?/Is this our last try?/ Is this our last dance/ Before we turn around/ And say goodbye?”).

‘Battle of My Own’ is the closest the Leppards have sounded to acoustic Led Zeppelin. Pity about the by-the-number lyrics. ‘Blind Faith’ borrows a mellotron and much inspiration from the Beatles, and brings the album to a slowly building, bombastic end. If Rock is the faith Def Leppard lives by, they leave us with the query: “Did I say enough for dreams to survive/ Is my faith enough to keep them alive.”

While the peaks in the album are high, there is a fair bit of filler stuff on the album. ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Wings of an Angel’ do not work: they lack the sing-along hooks associated with the band. Musically they are adventurous, but the vocal lines often lag behind, being less than memorable. Almost half of the fourteen tracks are less than excellent. Had this album been edited down to 10 tracks it would have gotten 4 stars. As it stands, the filler tracks are the reason why the album is marked down by half a star. Production-wise, it would not be Def Leppard if it was not sparkling and that this album is. The harmonies are brilliant even on the weaker songs. Lyrics range from witty to less than so and at times appear to have been done by the numbers.

Overall, as far as comebacks go, this album, barring the few missteps, is very welcome at a time when there is a dearth of great rock albums. This album needs to be played loud and preferably in your car. There’s a lot of hard rocking fun to be had here. Recommended.

 

album profile

 As far as comebacks go, this album, barring the few missteps, is very welcome at a time when there is a dearth of great rock albums. This album needs to be played loud and preferably in your car. There’s a lot of hard rocking fun to be had here.

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