May 22, 2008

CD Review: Def Leppard - Songs From The Sparkle Lounge

I am a Def Leppard fan from way back, well, at least as far back as Hysteria, with the rest being retroactive to On Through the Night. That said I must admit to falling off the horse in the years since Adrenalize. Yes, I have Slang and X, but I don't have Euphoria or the covers collection. Also, when I reach for Def Leppard I generally reach for The Vault or Rock of Ages, the best of collections. That brings me to Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, an album that, quite frankly, snuck up on me. I had no idea that they had even gone into the studio, I was under the impression that they were towards the end, perhaps doing the occasional tour. I was, obviously, wrong. This album is something of a mixed bag as the bad is definitely past their prime as a top of the pop charts kind of band. Def Leppard is a band that is letting their maturity and experience shine through in an album that embraces their roots as much as it treads new ground.

When it comes to Def Leppard it is hard for me to completely impartial. Their 80's output had such a profound impact on me in my youth. When I look back on my personal history with music, Def Leppard is a big part of it. I remember when I first heard "Rocket" I knew I was in love, then I bought Hysteria (on cassette) off a classmate who couldn't stand it (blasphemy!) and within minutes I had a favorite band for the first time in my life. I listened to that tape over and over and over again. I swear, there was a time I could recite all of the lyrics, in order, for the entire album. Of course, my love extended backwards over Pyromania, High and Dry, and On Through the Night. All of it was great. So, when I listen to any new material from them it will invariably be compared to the glory years.

The first thing that jumped out at me, something that immediately turned me (unfairly) against the album, was the sound. It didn't sound like Hysteria (or Adrenalize, or Slang...). I don't know why I was expecting it to. I mean I am intelligent enough to know that this is far from the same band, they have grown older and they have changed. While Hysteria captured an era, it is far from capturing who Def Leppard is. To find that out, you will need to do a complete survey of their career. Songs From The Sparkle Lounge is a good album, it is familiar enough to be recognizable, but it is different..

Songs From the Sparkle Lounge sounds like the album that they wanted to make, moreso than X and much more than Yeah! (the covers album). They have stripped away any expectations and rebuilt Def leppard from the ground up. For better or worse, this feels like an album that all five guys put their heart and soul into. I do not get the impression that they were looking to recreate the magic of the 1980s, or that they were looking to retake the pop charts, they didn't target today's youth audience. Instead of reaching for something beyond their grasp, they focused their energies on an album filled with catchy tunes, great hooks, and targeted an audience of people like themselves.

Def Leppard has always been known for high production values, almost to a fault, and that is now different here, the production values are there. Taking advantage of the production is what seems to be new is a renewed focus on the guitars. Yes, guitars have always been an important part of the band, but they seem to be pushed more to the forefront than I remember, creating this virtual wall of pop guitar sounds. Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell team up to create that wall, and they form a solid unit, backed by the rhythm section manned by the Rick's, Allen on drums and Savage on bass. Leading them into battle, as always, is vocalist Joe Elliot.

Now, all is not wine and roses. Yes, this is a solid album with some good tunes, but it is also an album that does not stick with me once it is over. The songs are infinitely catchy while they are playing, but they fail to stick in the brain and soon fade after the last note has faded. The sound is definitely Def Leppard, but it does seem to be missing something. It does not quite have the soul that I would like to here, but overall it is a solid album.

Bottomline. This is not the triumphant return of the Lep, but it wasn't meant to be. This is an album with nice tunes that are easy to get into collected in an album that does not overstay its welcome, clocking in at a lean 39-minutes. If you are a fan of the band, you will want to give this a listen. Likewise, if you want a mature collection of rock tunes on the softer side, this may be right up your alley. I like the album, but I cannot say I will reach for it all that often.

Mildly Recommended.


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