Def Leppard

Mercury Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In 1996, Def Leppard was a remnant of a long-gone musical glory period. Once a leader of the hard rock world, with albums like Pyromania and Hysteria to their credit, the band had gone through more personal turmoil than you get in an average soap opera: drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a 1984 car crash, only to return using an electronic drum kit, unimaginable delays hitting Hysteria and Adrenalize, the death of guitarist Steve Clark after a history of alcohol problems, the accusations that Allen had beat his girlfriend, blah, blah, blah. To top it all off, hard rock was persona non grata on the radio, and it seemed like public interest in the band was all but gone. Clearly, they had to reinvent themselves.

Then came Slang, an album that is not held in high regard among some Def Leppard fans. The lead-off single "Work It Out" was a major change from the overdub-laden tracks they had become known for, and the vocals lacked the harmony lines that had become their trademark. The track flopped, and the album became a footnote. Even I cringed when I paid two bucks for an unopened tape copy at my local used record hangout a few weeks ago.

Ah, but here's the rub: Slang, once you get used to the new sound (and it really doesn't take that long), turns out to be an incredibly good album that didn't deserve to be critically and commercially ignored. At long last, Joe Elliott and crew could put behind them the ghosts of their past.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Slang is the first full-length Def Leppard release to feature Clark's replacement, former Dio axeman Vivian Campbell. It also has the freshest drum sounds since Allen's accident - in fact, if you didn't know that Allen was missing an arm, you would swear that these were all acoustic drums. Truly, the technology of these instruments has come a long way since 1986. Elliott's vocals sound no different than they did on Hysteria nine years previous (if not a little more world-wise), and guitarist Phil Collen and bassist Rick Savage shine as they always do.

Granted, "Work It Out" was a terrible choice for a first single - though once you listen to the track two or three times in the context of the whole album, it doesn't seem that bad. But it is hardly the strongest song on Slang. The opening assault of "Truth?" is enough to convince you that, despite what the doomsayers had said, Def Leppard had lost none of their edge.

Possibly bowing a bit to the inability to market hard rock at that time, Def Leppard to resort to the ballad often, though these ballads blow earlier efforts like "Love Bites" out of the water. "All I Want Is Everything" and "Breathe A Sigh" are two examples of how a good ballad should sound: gentle, but with enough of an edge.

If I had to decide which track should have been the leadoff single to radio, I would have pushed for either "Turn To Dust," which seemed to merge Def Leppard's past and present, or "Slang," which injected just a touch of rap into the lyrics to keep the sound fresh. (Actually, "All I Want Is Everything" would have been the ideal single, but it might have been too much Leppard ballads for the long-time fan to take, after "Miss You In A Heartbeat" and "Two Steps Behind".)

The overall power of Slang doesn't dip often, maintaining its fresh sound even to the ending tracks like "Where Does Love Go When It Dies," a track one has to wonder about the inspiration for. Only two tracks don't hold up among the best: "Work It Out" and "Pearl Of Euphoria". Still, these aren't many slips when held up to so many strong tracks.

The unfortunate thing about Slang's commercial failure is that one has to wonder what the future of Def Leppard is. Sure, hard rock and heavy metal is beginning to make a comeback in the industry, but Def Leppard is a band that continuously struggled through the hard times of their lives and the genre. One has to wonder if the band might have gotten tired of the struggles. For their sake, I hope they forge on.

Slang is not a bad album at all, and is one that is eagerly awaiting rediscovery by both long-time Leppard fans and by those who enjoy a solid mixture of rockers and ballads. Here's hoping this album won't be a "farewell" to the fans.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mercury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.