A new Def Leppard album is pretty big news in and of itself. Even when the band was at its commercial peak, years passed between new albums – Pyromania came out in 1983, Hysteria in 1987 and Adrenalize in 1992 – and the last time they put out an album, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, was 2008.
But according to guitarist Phil Collen, what's more notable than the album itself (a self-titled release) is that it may be the purest representation yet of the kind of sound and music Def Leppard want to create.
"The great thing about this is we weren't after a sound," Collen says in a recent phone interview. "So there's a freedom in that, that just allows you to be a true artist. It's the first time we've ever done that, in the 30-odd years I've been in the band. Probably when the band first got together and was doing demos, that was a [true] representation. But after that, you get kind of, the fans want to hear a certain thing or management or the record company wants it to sound a certain way."
According to Collen, they didn't even realize they were making an album until the project was taking shape. The five band members – singer Joe Elliott, Collen, guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen – went into the studio in February 2014 thinking they might want to record a song, or perhaps an EP, to have something new for the live show.
"We were just playing each other ideas," Collen says. "Instead of putting them into a bracket or a box, we just did the songs that sounded most exciting to us straight off the bat, and all of a sudden everything kind of had a fresh vigor about it."
Two more recording sessions followed, then the album was given some finishing touches. It was mixed on the road using a mobile studio setup as Def Leppard toured last summer, headlining a bill that also featured Styx and Tesla.
Collen is fired up about Def Leppard's latest work, calling it "the best thing we've done since Hysteria."
That's no small statement. That 1987 album, which was the follow-up to the band's breakthrough release, the seven-times platinum album Pyromania, was a blockbuster. Sales of Hysteria, which boasted such hits as "Animal" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me," eventually topped 15 million and pushed Def Leppard to the very top among rock acts at the time.
The group had one more huge hit with the next CD, Adrenalize, but when grunge became the next big rock trend, it helped push Def Leppard and other '80s hard rock/metal acts out of the spotlight. Although Def Leppard continued to turn out new CDs on a regular basis, album sales declined. Nevertheless, the band remained a popular live act.
For this tour, Def Leppard have guitarist Vivian Campbell back on tour, even though for a time it looked likely he would have to sit things out. In June 2013, Campbell announced that he had Hodgkin's lymphoma. In July 2014, doctors told him that his cancer was in remission, but in June 2015, it returned. He was able to go through his latest treatment regimen while on tour this summer, and he will be with the band for their winter dates.
According to Collen, the current show features new video content and a set list packed with hits, plus a couple of album tracks that haven't been part of Def Leppard's show for some time. The band is also beginning to perform material from the new self-titled album this winter.
New songs such as "Sea of Love," "All Time High," "Dangerous" and "Let's Go" bear the group's musical trademarks – big guitars, melodic vocals that give the songs pop appeal and layered vocal harmonies. There are a couple of surprises along the way, such as the slightly funky "Man Enough," which is built around a tasty bass line and at times echoes Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Def Leppard also has a few of the expected arena-size ballads, such as "We Belong" and "Energized."
"The album turned out really diverse," Collen says. "There are the loudest, biggest guitars we've ever done on some tracks. ... It's an amazing record."
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