Part Twenty-Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series
Original Review: X (Japanese import) (2002)
In a word: “desperate”.
The opening boops and bops of lead single “Now” sounded like some pop band from Sweden, not Def Leppard. Worse, they sounded desperate.
The last studio album Euphoria was sonically calculated to bring back the good old days, but only sold half a million copies in the US, in a case of diminishing returns. To turn the ship around commercially, professional hitmakers Marti Frederiksen, Per Aldeheim and Andreas Carlsson were employed to help produce. Songs from professional songwriters were used. The band’s core sound was watered down and only now and then does the real Def Leppard surface for air.
It has been argued that eliminating the first single (and first track) “Now” would strengthen the album. While may be, we simply cannot ignore this track co-written by pro Marti Frederiksen. While opens with clicks and wheezes like a life support machine, acoustic guitars and keyboards set up the tune. Dark, soft and unimpressive until the main guitar hook kicks in at the chorus. But the chorus is lifeless and uninspiring. Only the chunky guitars have any impact, unfortunately hobbled by more clicks and sonic idiocy. At least drummer Rick Allen, who co-wrote this and a number of the album tracks, sounds lethal.
The sonic blemishes go unabated on the ballad “Unbelievable”, written entirely by hitmakers including Max Martin. The drum and sound effect programming is irritating and adds absolutely nothing to do the song. Only on the chorus, where Leppard drown it out with their harmonies, do we get relief. On X, Def Leppard had reach Peak Ballad, and that’s not a good thing. Their reliance on them was hurting their credibility as a rock band. If their voices were not so recognizable, you would not have been able to identity “Unbelievable” as a Def Leppard song.
Fortunately “You’re So Beautiful” has some spark. This upbeat pop rocker has a nice, laid back chug and very sweet harmonies. It’s not overly encumbered by programming. Phil Collen sings a chunk of it which adds another element. It’s decent.
More acoustics abound on “Everyday”, making us wonder if Leppard ever intend to rock on this album. As far as pop rock goes, “Everyday” is pretty good, with some pretty undeniable hooks. Expertly constructed with the aid of Frederiksen, “Everyday” is a keeper.
One of Leppard’s softest ballads is “Long, Long Way to Go” written by One Direction hitmakers Wayne Hector and Steve Robson. Fortunately it’s a song that Leppard makes work. Rich strings and heavy production do not impede this time. There’s an acoustic version included on the Japanese version of the album that lacks a lot of the excess, and is actually superior. Fortunately, that version is included on a later CD in The CD Collection Volume 3. “Long, Long Way to Go” is an album highlight. Even though they didn’t write it, it deserves to sit up there with some of Leppard’s best balladeering.
“Four Letter Word” is the first actual rocker, even though it steals part of its riff from the superior “Armageddon It”. Decent song, but unfortunately a knockoff. Better is “Torn to Shreds” which is ballady, but still boasts a pretty tough chorus. This song has a pop sound that implies it was cowritten by a hitmaker, but it was not. This is all Leppard. They were reaching for pop but at least they let it loose a bit on the chorus.
Irritating sound effects return on “Love Don’t Lie”, like ants at a picnic that just won’t go away. Not a bad song, with a nice stuttery guitar part that would be nice to hear breathing on its own. It’s not a total loss but the production is really un-rock in every way. Now, let’s not get into an argument about being open minded, or categorising Leppard as a “rock” band. Leppard have long called themselves a pop group, and that’s fine. There’s that, and there’s a step too far into sonic indigestion, and that’s where we are. Having said all this, the single “Gravity” is one of the most offensive of the songs. It could have been Backstreet Boys or N*Sync with guitars. Or worse.
“Cry” introduces the concept of a “guitar riff” to the X album. Too little, too late, on an unremarkable song. “Girl Like You” is a better song, but the programming and digital gunk are still there hovering in the background like a computer virus. At this point, patience is wearing this and we just want this album to end. One more ballad to endure, “Let Me Be the One” is over quickly, but what is the point? There are so many ballads seeping into the Leppard catalogue at this point in time, and few of them are notable.
Fortunately, X ends on the best song, “Scar”. Though not as heavy as “White Lightning” or as memorable as “Gods Of War”, “Scar” has that kind of dark edgy vibe. It checks pretty much all the boxes. It has a riff, a good melody, some very vintage Leppard-y guitar work, and great harmonies. One of X‘s strengths is the care put into the deeply layered vocals, a Leppard trait unheard to this degree since Hysteria. It truly is a cool sound.
There were a number of bonus tracks and B-sides available to augment your X experience for better or for worse. Japan had two bonus tracks: the aforementioned acoustic “Long, Long Way to Go” and “Kiss the Day”, another slow pseudo-rocker. The official website used to offer a song called “Perfect Girl”, which is a better demo of “Gravity”. All these and more such as “10 X Bigger Than Love” are now in the box set, and we’ll take a closer look at those songs when we get to disc four of The CD Collection Volume 3.
Oh, and why X as the title? Counting Retro-Active and Vault, it’s their tenth album. Yeah, Vault shouldn’t count, but what can you do?
If you were making a Def Leppard Best Of CD set (which, nine years after Vault, was Leppard’s next move), you could make a good case for including two songs from X, those being “Scar” and “Long, Long Way to Go” (preferably the acoustic version). Is that what Def Leppard did? Find out next time.
- The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night
- The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
- The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
- The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
- The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings
- The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
- Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
- Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
- In The Round In Your Face DVD
- “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
- Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
- Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
- Video Archive
- “Slang” CD single
- I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
- Rarities 2
- Rarities 3
- Rarities 4
- Cybernauts – Live
- Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
29. Best Of (UK)
30. Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection (US)