Part 4 in my series of Def Leppard Slang reviews!
Part 1: “Slang”
Part 2: “Work It Out”
Part 3: “All I Want Is Everything”
DEF LEPPARD – Slang (1996 Mercury 2 CD edition)
One day in the early 2000’s, I was at work, and had this album playing. This guy was in the store, that actually worked at the HMV. As soon as “Truth?” came on, he approached me.
“I can’t believe you’re playing this album. This is great. I don’t know anybody else who really knows this album at all.”
That’s the way Slang went for Def Leppard. It came out to disappointment from the types who want to hear the same album over and over again. (They were obliged on Euphoria). I really dug Slang, then and now. If anything, today I think it might be a tad ballad-heavy. I still love it, and I am excited that Def Leppard plan on releasing a deluxe edition with bonus tracks soon. In the meantime, I have my original limited edition 2 CD set that came with a bonus disc called Acoustic in Singapore.
“Truth?” is a thunderous opener, laden with modern sounding samples and rhythms. Even better is the hypnotic “Turn to Dust”. Although it moves slow, it has loads of exotic atmosphere and instrumentation. Neither of these songs sound like old Def Leppard. There are major changes, including acoustic drums, darker tones and a noticeable lack of shout-along gang vocals.
It’s still the same spirit though. There’s an obsessive attention to detail, layers of backing vocals, and tasty choruses. It’s just 1996’s version of those things. Listen to the title track, “Slang”, for example. It doesn’t sound like anything Leppard have done before, but you can see it as “Sugar” a decade later if you like.
“All I Want Is Everything” is another personal favourite, a great ballad but again unlike what Def Leppard has done before. It has a certain power to it, without being loud and obnoxious. It has a plaintive quality and a fantastic chorus.
Next is “Work It Out” , a contribution from “new kid” Vivian Campbell. It is absolutely loaded with cool guitar squeeks and squonks, no wankery, but a new kind of guitar heroism. These little adornments are there in the mix waiting to be discovered, under suitably thick drones of rhythm guitars. I love this song, which really proved to me that Leppard had successfully adapted their sound to the mid-90’s. A shame it didn’t sell.
Phil’s “Breathe A Sigh” is one that threw a lot of people for a loop. Either Spin or Rolling Stone (I forget which) compared it to TLC. Indeed, loops make up a large part of the percussion parts, and the band seem to be trying R&B on for size. What keeps it Def Leppard are the layers of droney guitars in the back of the mix, and the immaculate vocal choirs.
Interestingly, Slang was stacked with four singles in a row, “Breathe A Sigh” being the final single. This does not mean the album is out of ammunition. “Deliver Me” brings back the heavy. Leppard In Chains? Def Temple Pilots? Not one of the best songs, “Deliver Me” at least balances some of the softer material. Better is “Gift of Flesh”, a driving riff rocker with some slammin’ drums from Rick Allen. Phil wrote this one. I bet it would have been smokin’ live if they ever played it.
This fades directly into a lush but quiet ballad called “Blood Runs Cold”. I could imagine some old-timey fans running away in fear that their nuts would shrivel, at the sound of this one. I love this song, but I’m not sure it needed to be followed by yet another ballad, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”. Although not a single, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” was recently dusted off by the band as part of their recent acoustic medley. It is more upbeat than the previous song, and has a folky campfire quality. It also gives the album a sense of flow: an upturn before the dramatic closer.
“Pearl of Euphoria” is that dramatic closer, which returns the listener to the dark, powerful tones that we began with. Leppard don’t often reflect a strong Led Zeppelin influence, but you can definitely hear some “Kashmir” here. Not only is Rick Allen laying down a Bonham-esque groove, but some of the guitar bits flying in and out of the speakers remind me of the sound collage section in “Whole Lotta Love”. It’s a great closing song.
The Acoustic in Singapore disc was a limited edition run, but since the album didn’t sell well you can find them quite easily. This six song disc was recorded in late ’95. Both discs were co-produced by Pete Woodroffe. Some songs work really well acoustically. “Armageddon It” works surprisingly well, a fresh summery version. Some were acoustic originally, like “Two Steps Behind”. It’s cool to have but certainly not essential to your enjoyment of Slang.
As for my enjoyment of Slang?