DEF LEPPARD – Slang (Deluxe Edition, 2014 Bludgeon Riffola)
This is the second time I’ve reviewed a version of Def Leppard’s ill-fated Slang CD. As Joe Elliot says in the booklet inside, the band were considering calling it Commercial Suicide, such were the changes in sound. The mid 90’s was not a kind time for rock bands of Def Leppard’s ilk. Everybody had to adjust, and Leppard chose to do so by making their sound darker and more organic. That was fine with me. I’ve already reviewed Slang; a 4/5 star album in my books. For your convenience I’ll talk about the original Slang album at the end of this review. For now I just want to talk about the “Deluxe Edition” and the bonus tracks.
Like many Def Leppard albums before it, Slang produced a number of excellent B-sides. Some are on this CD. Some are only available on the iTunes version. I have all the singles anyway, but iTunes also have two exclusive unreleased tracks of their own. (You can buy these songs separately; you don’t have to buy all of Slang again to get them.) These two songs are early demos of “All I Want Is Everything” and “Move With Me Slowly,” the latter with Phil singing. While “Move With Me Slowly” is similar to its incarnation on CD 1, “All I Want Is Everything” is drastically different. It’s a much more standard “power ballad” at this stage, little resembling the song it would become. This take is not to be confused with the “first draft” of “All I Want Is Everything” on CD 2, which sounds a lot more like the album counterpart.
That’s one issue with the Deluxe Edition of Slang. There is a lot of repeat. Songs you will hear three times in one version or another include “All I Want Is Everything”, “Gift Of Flesh” (previously known as “Black Train”) and “Deliver Me” (previously known as “Anger”). Especially when you include all the different bonus tracks, the Deluxe can be a hard slog to listen to in entirety. I had to split it up over two nights.
But it is worth it. Although some demos barely differ from the album counterparts, some have different lead vocals by Phil or Vivian. There are some unreleased songs that I have never heard before. “All On Your Touch” is a nice ballad that was only finished in 2012. Then there’s Vivian’s funky-Zeppelin song “Move On Up” which is quite adventurous. Some of the demo versions, such as “Raise Your Love” (an early version of “Slang”) differ quite a bit from the album versions. Although listening to the Slang Deluxe is a long journey, it’s also a very interesting one in terms of hearing how Def Leppard wrote and recorded it.
Almost all the B-sides for Slang were included on one version or another, except for live B-sides. Songs included are the old-school sounding “When Saturday Comes,” and the instrumental “Jimmy’s Theme” which are only on the iTunes version. (See below for complete track listing including all iTunes bonus tracks.) “Move With Me Slowly” is a bluesy, ballady number that could have been a single in its own right. Ditto “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame” which could have been an acoustic single. “Burn Out” and “Worlds Collide” are also B-sides, but these two were not released until 1999 on the singles for “Goodbye”. Both are heavy, heavy rockers.
Let’s talk about the packaging. I’ve heard a lot of surprise and complaints when this CD arrived inside a big fat “double” CD case. That is kind of a surprise; you don’t even see these with 3 CD sets anymore let alone a double. The booklet inside is nothing to write home about. There are some words from Joe and lots of live photos, but nothing in the way of specific liner notes. If you’re wondering where these songs were recorded or released before, info inside is vague. There are track listings for all the Slang singles, but that only covers part of it.
As our friend the Heavy Metal OverloRd says, this probably doesn’t deserve the title “Deluxe Edition”. In fact, I asked HMO if he’d like to weigh in on this, since he has some strong opinions about it. For fun I asked him to comment in Scottish slang:
Def Leppard ur a bunch a fannybaws by the way. They hink the new edition of Slang is a “deluxe edition”. But it isnae. This widnae even huv been deluxe in 1995, never mind noo.
When it turned up I wis pure gutted. I thought the booklet had better be snazzy but it wisnae either. Just a wee hing where Joe tried tae mind stuff fae back in the day. Nae liner notes. Nae lyrics. Nuhin. Just some shite photies. My old copy had two discs, a slimmer case and lyrics. And some photies an aw! Gid wans. One of them oan a bus like they were aw goin doon the toon or somethin. How wis that no deluxe but this is deluxe? If they’d called it a “2CD Edition” that wid huv been awrite but they didnae. This is “deluxe”… cept it isnae. I don’t have a Scooby whit they’re playin at. Eejits.
Well said. Lastly, I want to leave you with a look at the actual original album, Slang. Here’s all the pertinent text from my previous review in case you’re too lazy to click the link. It’s a great album and I’m glad it’s getting a second look today.
“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.
iTunes bonus tracks:
1. “Truth?” (Demo Version) – Previously on “Work It Out” CD single.
2. “Work It Out” (Demo Version) – B-Side from “Work It Out” with Viv singing and completely different from the other versions on the Deluxe. Viv referred to it as his “Crowded House” version.
3. “All I Want is Everything” (Demo Version) – Exclusive.
4. “Move With Me Slowly” (1st Draft) – Exclusive.
5. “When Saturday Comes” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
6. “Jimmy’s Theme” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
7. “Cause We Ended as Lovers” (Solo track by Phil) From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
8. “Led Boots” (Solo track by Viv) From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.