After 35-plus years of creating music and touring the world, Def Leppard knows how to craft a rock and roll record. The problem is, they may be too good at what they do, and their need for perfection can occasionally dilute the end product. The quintet’s latest effort, the 14-track self-titled studio album, Def Leppard, is the band’s most ambitious and perhaps most homogenized recording so far.
Joe Elliott’s voice and lyrical turn-of-phrase remain as engaging as ever, but much of the music on this eponymous eleventh release comes across as formulaic clones of Def Leppard’s past. This feeling rears its head on the opening track and first single, “Let’s Go”. The song’s intro is pointless and then it breaks into the bastard riff of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” before devolving into an amalgamation of the entire Hysteria album. It’s like the band dropped its biggest selling record in a blender and this song is what poured out. It’s not a bad track, and it has that sense of familiarity that fans will appreciate, but it has no edge and seems a poor choice to lead off the record.
The second song released fits right into the mold of Def Leppard’s Euphoria era, somewhere between “Demolition Man” and “Promises”. It’s a driving and melodic bit of ear candy. This is followed by the “Man Enough”, which is something of a homage to Queen that sounds like a collision of “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Dragon Attack”. It is the first sign that the band is pushing into new sonic territory.
“We Belong” is a slower tempo piece that finds all five members of the band sharing lead vocals, which is fantastic to hear, and keeps the song from coming across as filler. The rhythm picks back up with the catchy rocker, “Invincible”, which was co-penned by Elliott and drummer Rick Allen.
The next two tracks were written by guitarist Phil Collen; “Sea of Love” crashes along in energetic fashion before exploding into a Beatle-esque type chorus. It’s a nice diversion from the traditional Leppard mold. Sadly, it’s followed by perhaps the record’s weakest track, “Energized”, which has a bit of an ELO vibe and is ironically one of the slowest numbers on the record.
“All Time High” is a straight forward riff and roll foot-stomper, while “Battle of My Own” hails back to the band’s bluesy acoustic phase. These two are nice surprises midway into the record, with the latter showing the band is not afraid to break out of its own niche.
Elliott’s side project, Down ‘n’ Outz, might have been a better fit for the glamish “Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted”, just as “Forever Young” might have been more fitting for Collen’s Man Raze project, but with nearly four decades in the rear view, Leppard has earned the right to expand its own sound.
Bassist Rick Savage brought the album’s emotive acoustic ballad to the table with “Last Dance”. A dozen songs in, and one can hear how varied the musical palette is for the band on this record, and perhaps that is why the album is self-titled. This is Def Leppard redefined.
The record closes out with the broody “Wings of an Angel” which recalls something of the band’s experimental Slang record from the 90s, and “Blind Faith” which is a darkly-twisted nod to the Fab Four. The former is the record’s only track co-written by guitarist Vivian Campbell.
On first listen, Def Leppard comes across as a weak imitation of the band’s heady past. Much like the Michael Keaton movie Multiplicity, many of the songs sound like carbon clones–losing a bit of the magic in the process. Nothing is bad, but little is outstanding. However, repeated listens reveal more depth and substance, and the last half of the record has some truly inspired moments. While I would still argue that “Let’s Go” was a poor way to open the record, overall, this album is much stronger than a cursory listen allows. Def Leppard will never again be as raw and exciting as their hard rocking 1980 debut album, but they still stand as a band that knows how to make infectious pop and roll music.