Def Leppard

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987, 2006 deluxe edition)

EPIC REVIEW TIME.  Image heavy!  Step inside, walk this way.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987, 2006 Mercury deluxe edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something with the potential to be as big as Pyromania was.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It was incredible just to see how Rick Allen played drums with his new setup.  Apparently, video directors asked how they should shoot Rick?  The band answered “Just the same as you would any other drummer.”  It was simple as that.

“Women” introduced the new Def Leppard groove.  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.  To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.  It was remixed and brought down to 4:25 for the single release.

It is  unfortunate that Mercury stopped at seven singles, because they could have released at least nine.  Many fans had counted on a “Gods of War” release, certainly before “Rocket”.  “Gods of War” had become a fan favourite for those who bought the album, and it could have been used as a “serious” themed single towards the end of the album’s life.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it really could have been a valiant single.  It has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark, who was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.

The final track that shoulda woulda coulda been released as a single was the album closer, “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that help keep the album afloat.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

So Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Obviously, Def Leppard have continued to suffer ups and downs since Hysteria.  Steve Clark died.  Rick Savage has Bell’s Palsy.  Vivian Campbell fought cancer.  Yet they have continued to soldier on, never topping Hysteria of course, leaving it as the magnum opus that it is.

HYSTERIA

The album inspired a book and a movie.  An album of Hysteria’s stature deserves a killer deluxe edition too.  This one is nearly perfect.

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  “Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  “Ring of Fire” was even heavier, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.  Along the same lines is “Ride into the Sun”, an old track from Leppard’s first EP, re-recorded here and in fine form.  “Ride into the Sun” is a stellar track and perhaps should have received some acclaim.  Even though the song has been remixed and reissued on other things, it remains a rarely heard gem.  Yet the most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!

This deluxe edition includes all the live B-sides and almost all the bonus tracks associated with singles for the album, and then some.  “Women” is a live classic from the home video.  Anyone who has seen it will remember this version and Joe’s intro.  “We got everything we need!  We got the band, the crowd, the lights, the cameras, the action!  There’s only one thing that we ain’t got…”  Women!  (I doubt that, Joe!)  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover,  was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.

From the same gig as “Elected” came a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Then there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig again), and a fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley.   This medley seamlessly captures some bits of classic rock tunes within itself:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  When this was originally released on the “Rocket” single, there was no mention of the medley part.  It was a total surprise when Leppard broke into these other songs, some of which I’d never heard before.

Leppard released a few remixes during this period too.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  What’s missing is the single edit of the “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  The single mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is also missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

Finally, and most importantly, is the last B-side “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys absolutely sucked!  For the time it was a novelty release, but it’s now a wonderful tongue in cheek finale to this great deluxe edition.

Some, including renowned rock journalist Martin Popoff, have dismissed Hysteria as lifeless and dismally underwhelming sell-out pop.  Keeping in mind where they came from (High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania) there is no question that Hysteria was a clear and intentional turn towards the mainstream.  Where Def Leppard rose above a simple pop foray is in the detail and care given to the recordings.  With Mutt Lange keeping his eye on the goalposts, he drove Leppard not to make an album without a soul, but one that offered flawlessly assembled guitar based songs.  The passion and heart can still be heard; they are not buried.  It’s a unique combination of studio sterility with Leppard’s brand of glam rock, and nobody (not even Leppard) have been able to duplicate the magic of Hysteria.

You might not “need” the full-on deluxe edition, but considering the quality of the B-sides and live material, you’d be positively missing out.

5/5 stars

Gallery of single covers

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Mirrorball: Live & More (2011 Japanese with bonus track)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Down to the nitty gritty!  This is the second last review in this series.  Mike and Aaron have been doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums that they have sent to each other. This one was gifted to Aaron when Mike upgraded to the Japanese edition.  Enjoy!

DEF LEPPARD – Mirrorball: Live & More (2011 Marquee Japan)

Def Leppard hyped this baby as their “first official live album”.  First official live album? Maybe, but the astute collector had already been aware of a 1984 live album included with the deluxe 2 CD edition of Pyromania.   For vintage 80’s Leppard thrills featuring Steve Clark, that’s the ultimate go-to live CD.  More obscurely, after the Euphoria album, Def Leppard issued an entire live album’s worth (11 songs) of MP3 files for free, which are no longer around. You can read our review of that untitled release right here.

Scan_20160302 (5)Regardless, this is the first stand-alone Leppard live album (double live, in fact) that you can walk into a store and buy.   The domestic version comes with a bonus DVD, with behind-the-scenes stuff and music videos (“Nine Lives” and “C’mon C’mon” from the Sparkle Lounge album).

Upon inserting Mirrorball into the car drive and hitting “play”, the first thing I was impressed with was Joe Elliot’s voice. The singer is often the member who suffers most from the ageing process.  Singers like Joe who basically screamed for the first few albums don’t always have the ability to do it convincingly anymore.  The “old voice” is usually gone.  However here it is, right in the opening of “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”. It recurs many times over the course of the album.

All the hits are here, even the ones you’d rather forget like “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Make Love Like a Man”. The set leans heavily of course on Pyromania and Hysteria, with most of the singles being rolled out: “Rock Of Ages”, “Foolin'”, “Photograph”, “Animal”, “Hysteria”, “Love Bites”, “Sugar”, and “Armageddon”. Album classic “Too Late For Love” is also present, as is the perennial medley of “Bringing On The Heartbreak/Switch 625”. “Heartbreak” has a nice acoustic intro, different from the one that Leppard used to do back in the 80’s (see: Live in the Round in Your Face).

Then, you get a few boring tracks.  Some of these, such as cover tunes, I have no idea why they still play them live.  Do they not have enough old originals that fans are clamouring for?  Did we really need covers on Leppard’s first official live album? No. But there’s “Rock On” anyway.  I hate that song.  And The Sweet’s “Action” is here, again, which I guess has almost become a Def Leppard song itself.  For other dull content, the B-side-later-A-side “Two Steps Behind” also appears, a song which was never more than a throw-away to me.

As far as more recent material goes: Two songs from Adrenalize, none from Slang, none from Euphoria, none from X.

At least they included three songs from the latest album, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge: The awful, derivative  heard-it-all-before “C’mon C’mon”, as well as a smokin’ version of “Bad Actress” and the single “Nine Lives” (without Tim McGraw!).  Regardless of what’s included and what’s not (you can make your own wishlist of tunes!), Mirrorball does represent the Def Leppard live experience well.  They are bang-on, every track.  These five guys have really grown together as a band.  It doesn’t sound like much fixing was done; indeed it doesn’t sound like much needed to be done.  Four of them can sing well enough, so the trademark Leppard layers are well represented live.

Onto the new studio songs: None are very special, but at least two rock: “Undefeated” is the catchiest, even though it has derivative “Sugar”-like moments that don’t help.  It has a thick Zepp-y chorus riff though, and that gives it some heft.  “It’s All About Believin'” also rocks, but Sav’s “Kings Of The World” is too soft. Leppard need to stay away from the ballady-stuff.  They’ve got more than enough now.

As is the norm, those lucky Japanese fans got a bonus track.  It is the descriptively titled “different version” of “Kings of the World”.  What’s different?  It doesn’t appear to be a demo, but it is a shorter version, piano-based with most of the instrumentation stripped off and an acoustic guitar solo.  My preference is to the more bombastic and Queen-like album mix.

For a first official one, Mirrorball is a pretty good live album. It could have been a lot better. It should have been better, considering.  However they did do better, when they released the next live package, Viva Hysteria!   That one scratches virtually every musical itch you have.  And don’t forget, you can pick up that aforementioned deluxe edition of Pyromania for a youthful, smokin’ set.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Wild in the Streets (1987, Rock Candy remaster)

STRAT

Canadian Rawk week continues with a double dose of HELIX! Boppin at boppinsblog reviews the same record today. For his review, click here!

HELIX – Wild in the Streets (1987 Capital, 2011 Rock Candy remaster)

Before this handy-dandy 2011 Rock Candy reissue, Wild in the Streets was an exceptionally hard album to find on CD.   By the time I started working at the Record Store in 1994, it was already long deleted.  I had a pretty neat cassette version, with a glow in the dark shell, but the sound was pretty muddy and warbly.  The CD finally fell into my lap thanks to a kind hearted customer named Len, who picked it up for me at a rival store.  The full story of this rare item and the quest to find one was told in Record Store Tales Part 234:  Wild in the Streets.  Since I’ve already told that story, no further background is necessary and we can cut to the chase.

It has been well documented, both in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R and the fine liner notes in this CD, that Wild in the Streets was not an easy album.   This album had to make it, or Helix’s deal with Capital wasn’t going to be renewed.  They had trouble coming up with songs.  They recorded overseas with a disinterested producer (Mike Stone).  The album was mixed and remixed again, until Stone had to demonstrate to the guys that they had lost perspective and couldn’t tell one version from another anymore.  Other stressors added to the pressure, but finally some singles were selected and videos filmed.  Time to rock!

The action-packed video for the title track made quite an impression. The high-flying Helix were (and are) one of the most exciting live bands around. The video perfectly fit the music, an unforgettable rock anthem about turnin’ on the heat and going wild in the streets. It was written by guitarist Paul Hackman and his friend Ray Lyell, a Canadian solo artist gaining success at the time. This kickin’ track represented a high point for Helix; never before had they combined the rock with catchy melody like this. MuchMusic gave it plenty of exposure, but it failed to jump the border and make an impact down south.

To make up for a shortage of originals, Helix recorded some covers. FM’s “Never Gonna Stop the Rock” was a funky dud. According to the liner notes, the band didn’t particularly like the song either. Manager Bill Seip chose it among many submissions, and on the album it went, because nobody had any better ideas. Nazareth’s “Dream On” was a much more natural fit. Helix always had a way with tender ballads; witness their success with “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”. An inspired choice like “Dream On” works well as a Helix song, in fact up here in the Great White North, I daresay the song is associated more with Helix than Nazareth. It’s hard to say who plays the subtle keyboards and piano, as three players are credited on the album: Sam Reid from Glass Tiger, the legendary Don Airey, and Helix bassist Daryl Gray. Dr. Doerner brought up his huge doubleneck for the video, an image burned in our memories. Doerner had to be the coolest looking guy on the scene, he had the star quality.

“What Ya Bringin’ to the Party” is the question, on another Lyell/Hackman original. The slicker production of Wild in the Streets doesn’t really do it any favours. If it had been on an earlier album like No Rest for the Wicked (and been a teensy bit faster), it could have been a sleezey rock classic. “High Voltage Kicks” is better because it delivers what it promises. This sounds like Helix to me. It’s fast, high-octane, and recommended for head banging. You’ll want a breather afterwards, which is good because it’s time to flip the album over to Side Two.

Scan_20160211 (2)Ready to “Give ‘Em Hell”? Helix are, and this is a good quality album track to do it. It fits that mid-tempo rock niche that Helix often call home. It’s back to hot flashy rock on “Shot Full of Love”, a Vollmer/Doerner co-write with some pure lead guitar smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his twin brother Brian laying waste on the drums. Brian Doerner is one of four drummers credited, including Mickey Curry, Matt Frenette, and of course Helix skinsman Greg “Fritz” Hinz. “Love Hungry Eyes” is one of the strongest songs in the bunch, and I think if there was to be a third single, it would have been “Love Hungry Eyes”. Brian Vollmer kicks this one right in the ass. I don’t think Helix get enough credit for their background vocals, but all five members sing. Brent Doerner has a unique voice and when the Helix backing vocals kick in on the chorus, you get a whallop of the Doctor right in the ears. That’ll cure what ails ya.

Joe Elliot of Def Leppard contributed “She’s Too Tough”, but then the shit hit the fan. Leppard’s label (Polygram) were terrified of Elliot competing with the soon-to-be released Hysteria album. Even though “She’s Too Tough” never passed the demo stage and was never in consideration for Hysteria, the label was so afraid that they were going to force Helix to remove it from their album. A compromise was reached: Helix could keep the song for their album, but could not release it as a single.  As such, you’ve probably never heard Helix’s version of it.  Leppard eventually recorded a proper version for a single B-side (“Heaven Is“) and it has become the more famous of the two.  That’s too bad, because Helix’s version is far more adrenalized, pardon the pun.

“Kiss It Goodbye” inspired the infamous Helix tour shirt that I would never have been allowed to buy or wear to school!  The song, another Doerner/Vollmer rocker, was unforgettable in concert.  It’s still a barnstormer on CD, certainly one of the most memorable tracks from this era.  The album is over and out in under 40 minutes, but you’ll probably have lost a couple pounds in sweat, if you were rocking out properly during those 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Helix, despite a great live show featuring their fancy new stage set, the album failed to perform and the writing was on the wall.  Morale took another blow when Brent Doerner told the band that he was leaving.  The guitarist had been there since 1975.  He was integral to every album they made, and he was a charismatic personality on stage.  What were a band to do?  If you’re Helix, you do what you have always done.  You keep on givin’ ‘er.  They responded to this dire time with one of the best albums of their career.

Wild in the Streets was the end of an era.  It was also the last Helix album of the 1980’s.  With the benefit of hindsight, Wild in the Streets capped the decade off properly.  Mushy production aside, it was a strong collection of songs that probably could have been presented better.  Too bad!

3.5/5 stars

Scan_20160211 (3)

DVD REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009)

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

“Of course that country cop out track (“Nine Lives”) is brutal…Leppard has no place for CMT! I remember hearing about the Swift deal…I had zero interest. I was like, ‘How can a band that put out stellar product (basically the first four albums) go and cross over!??’ I mean right out of the Sixx play book entitled Following Trends!”Deke from Metal Shatz

“There’s always a first day when you discover a band, be it the Beatles or Taylor Swift, when you hear the name for the first time and then you go and check it out. So we just Googled her, iTuned her, listened to it all and said, ‘Wow’!” — Joe Elliott

“I like to write songs about what’s going on in my life.” — Taylor Swift, stating the obvious

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Before the Swifties come and tear us apart for what you’re about to read, let’s be perfectly clear. Taylow Swift is very talented and has a genuine love for Def Leppard’s music. She is also an incredibly bright individual, and she has written more hits than Def Leppard in a fraction of the time. Both of them started in their teens, and are guilty of using outside writers. In the included interview footage, she and Def Lep seem like a mutual admiration society. We have nothing against Taylor Swift here, though her brand of pop music is never heard around LeBrain HQ…save this Walmart exclusive DVD release.

How did they hook up? Taylor was on tour with “Tim and Faith” (McGraw and Hill) who’s tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. She expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with them, and then the phone rang.

Leppard and the Swift’s band share the stage, dual drummers, umpteen guitar players, and fiddle…but on a heavier track like “Photograph” you can’t really hear her group. Taylor gets the first line (she says she felt like a kid in a candy store to do so); then she and Joe swap. It’s clear that she doesn’t have the power nor the control that Joe Elliot has. Her voice is whispy by comparison. It’s also weird to see a girl in a gold mini-dress and cowboy boots fronting Def Leppard, but talk about dreams come true! I’m sure Def Leppard didn’t mind the national exposure either.

“Picture to Burn” is the kind of candy-coated pop country that irritates so many fans of the old fashioned stuff. Taylor is more at home on her own songs, but Joe has never sounded more awkward. Taylor’s band dominates on this song, with only a few Phil Collen guitar squeals to remind you he’s there. Tellingly, Joe Elliot says of her music, “You take the banjos and fiddles off, and you’ve got pop.” The next Taylor number, “Love Story” is one I’ve heard on pop radio many times, but it’s hard to suffer through. It brings back bad memories of Leppard’s pop disaster, X.

Taylor butchers my favourite Def Leppard ballad, “Hysteria”. The song successfully absorbs the twang, but again, Swift just lacks the vocal power to blast it the way Joe can. Her own ballad “Teardrops on my Guitar” is so laid back that most of the Leppard guys are sitting down for it. The bands mesh well and the song is pretty good, although she has a guitar player who kind of looks like a goth country emo Russell Brand. She’s at home on Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide”. Once again the meshing of the two bands works well here. There’s a full string section, plus backing vocalists crowding the already overloaded stage, but that’s what the song calls for and it’s genuinely great version of the well-worn hit. “Should’ve Said No” is a Swift song I don’t know, but it’s one of those pop tracks that just feels like it was written by a computer. It transforms directly into the show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, but…damn. Taylor’s out of breath. She is audibly gasping (a big no-no) between lines and unable to deliver the goods. With the fiddle and extra accouterments added, this one’s a write-off.

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There are three bonus tracks that weren’t broadcast as part of the show: One Swift, two Leppard. Taylor says she wrote “Our Song” in ninth grade (“three years ago, actually”). That’s exactly what it sounds like, ninth grade pop, but obviously there is a need in the world for that kind of kid-friendly music. Leppard fans won’t find any appeal here. They will however appreciate “Love”, the only new Leppard song in the set. Interestingly it starts with only Taylor and two of her guitarists on stage, then Leppard emerge from the shadows. As a duet, it’s enjoyable, and it’s overall probably the heaviest thing all night. The much-overplayed “Two Steps Behind” is the final bonus track. The fun thing here is trying to count the number of people playing guitar on stage. (Eight plus fiddle and Rick Savage on acoustic five-string.)

Phil Collen gets bonus points for wearing a jacket on stage, dressing up a bit for the television, but he sticks to tradition by having no shirt on underneath.

2.5/5 stars

#459.3: 2015 Year-End Lists, part 3 – LeBrain!

GETTING MORE TALE #459.3:
2015 Year-End Lists, part 3 – yours truly, LeBrain!

Unlike my companions in rock, Tom and Uncle Meat, I’m going to be a bit more verbose here with my top lists of 2015.

I thought I had my top five albums down.  I didn’t expect any changes, but then a couple respected writers started praising the new Def Leppard album.  I decided, against my better judgement to go ahead and buy it.  What can I say?  Those reviewers were right.  It’s a good album.  Def Leppard 2015 cracked my top five list, necessitating a top six.

LeBRAIN’S TOP SIX(!) ALBUMS of 2015

6. Def Leppard – Def Leppard
5. Stealth – …listen
4. Queensryche – Condition Hüman
3. The Darkness – Last of Our Kind
2. Faith No More – Sol Invictus
1. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

2015

LeBRAIN’S TOP FIVE TV SHOWS of 2015

I actually watched enough TV this year to make up a list!

5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
4. The Big Bang Theory
3. Star Wars: Rebels
2. Better Call Saul
1. American Dad!

BIG BANG

LeBRAIN’S TOP MOVIES of 2015

As far as I know, only one movie came out this year, right?

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

FORCE

2015 IN SUM

The high quality of new albums by returning bands continues to amaze me.  The last band I expected a quality album from this year was Def Leppard.  Of course, on the flip side of that, we have Bon Jovi who choked to death on pop dreck.  Given what was coming out this year, and what the stakes were (a possible final album from Iron Maiden, the first Faith No More CD in 18 years), you couldn’t have realistically hoped for better than we got.  Meanwhile on the new music front, it is hard to find a better debut than …listen, by Stealth.  Not rock in any way, but more mind-expanding than anything else I heard in 2015.

And talk about high stakes on the movie front!  The most anticipated movie of all time is going to be the most successful movie of all time, thanks to it pushing all the right buttons while moving the story into its next phase.  Because of my wife’s health condition (epilepsy) I don’t go out to movies very often, preferring to wait for the blu-ray.  Age of Ultron and Ant-Man pleased me immensely.  But worth more than just an honourable mention is Mad Mad: Fury Road.  Unlike Star Wars, Mad Max rebooted while going off into a startling new direction.  It was probably the most impressive film of the year…but even so, my 2015 was only about Star Wars.  Just trust me — see Mad Max: Fury Road.  See it many times.

Finally:  Rest in peace Lemmy Kilmister, Philthy Animal Taylor (that’s 2/3rds of the classic Motorhead lineup, wiped out), Scott Weiland, Chris Squire, Ornette Coleman, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, A.J. Pero, Andy Fraser, and of course, B.B. King.

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

fnm

 

That’s dedication, pal!

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I’m hard at work on my next series of reviews:  King’s X.  How hard, you ask?   I have eight instalments completed, with plenty more to do.  In fact just to make sure I do an extra, extra good job, I ordered two albums I was missing:  Black Like Sunday and Ogre Tones.  That’s right.  I spent money on two more CDs, just so I could do a more complete series.  That’s dedication, pal!  I must like you all, or something.

Amazon delivered these two discs free of charge.  Way to go, Amazon.

Then, like a bolt right out of the blue, look what arrived from CD Japan?

That’s right.  New Queensrÿche, Condition Hüman baby! Waiting for the Japanese release always sucks, but I have it now. Bonus track: “Espiritu Muerto”.  Also in the parcel, one re-buy: Def Leppard’s live album Mirrorball, with bonus track:  a “different version” of “Kings of the World”.

Yes, I do work hard, but it’s all for the love of rock and roll.  And you!

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Official 11 track live mp3 collection (2000-2001)

This review is for Scott, your Heavy Metal OverloRd.

LEP 1999DEF LEPPARD – Official 11 track live mp3 collection, download only (2000-2001)

We at LeBrain HQ have always loved being able to shed some light on music that is so rare, that you just can’t find out much of anything about online anymore.  It seems one of most obscure categories of rare music are official downloads from long ago that were never physically released, and long since taken down.  15 years isn’t a long time ago, but did you know that in 2000-2001, Def Leppard gradually put up 11 live tracks to download from their official site?  This was long before they had any sort of live album out whatsoever.

These official live recordings were selected by the band, and were released over a period of several months.  They were not available for long.  They were taken down by the time Leppard changed their site over to promote the X album in 2002.  Taken together, I assembled them in order of release into a a full length live album by Def Leppard — unofficial, yet official just the same!

The first song released was the old acoustic standby “Two Steps Behind” (San Antonio, Texas, 2000).  Joe begins by announcing that they were recording the show, and that this particular night was also the “official opening evening, at it were, of our brand new website, www dot defleppard dot com.  And that’s the reason we’re recording it, because we’re gonna put it on the web.  Worldwide, you guys are going worldwide!”  That certainly explains things!  The recording itself is quite excellent, rich and clear.  You also know there are no overdubs, because chords are missed and the songs goes on.  To me this is the ideal form of live recordings: official, but with a loose “who cares” attitude in regards to fixing mistakes later on.

An older classic, “Women” (Salem, Oregon, 2000) has similar sonic qualities.  It’s also quite bass heavy which is a nice change of pace for this band.  There had already been a B-side live version of “Women” out there for a while, recorded in 1987 for the video In the Round – In Your Face.   This version however has the currently lineup with Vivian Campbell, and a Joe Elliot who hits all the screams at the end.  This would have to be my go-to live version when I want to hear one.

The first then-new Def Leppard song to get the live release treatment was “Demolition Man” from Euphoria.  This one, from Denver, Colorado in 1999, sounds faster than the album version.  On an album of mostly so-so songs, “Demolition Man” at least had some velocity to it, unremarkable as it is.  It’s over and out quickly enough.

LEP JAPAN“When Love & Hate Collide” (Tokyo, 1999) is the second ballad released in the collection.  Although you could get an acoustic version on the bonus disc (Acoustic in Singapore) to Slang in 1996, this was the first full-on electric live release.  This version has some heft to it, and once again I would say this is the go-to version to listen to.

Def Leppard have been playing The Sweet’s “Action” for so long now, that you may as well consider it a built-in part of their set.  This was the first live version made available (London, 1999).  Like “Demolition Man”, it seems faster and much heavier live.  Joe’s voice is sounding pretty ragged at the end — as it should be after a performance like that!

The hit song “Animal” from Hysteria was not readily available in live form, at least on an audio format.  They did it unplugged for Acoustic in Singapore, and there were a couple VHS videos out there too, but nothing on vinyl or CD.  This more recent version (Nashville, Tennessee, 2000) is as reliable as any other.  It’s clear that even though the Euphoria album was shaky, the tour behind it was anything but.

Def Leppard started putting the instrumental scorcher “Switch 625” live again on the Slang tour.  It was welded onto “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” for a High ‘N’ Dry medley, just like it was on album.  This Montreal recording from 1996 is incredible.  Even the ballad has some serious crunch and scream to it.  Would you like some feedback?  Here you go, turn it way up.  Campbell nails the solos on “Heartbreak”, but it is “Switch 625” that is the pièce de résistance.  Just listen to Rick Allen, but don’t leave your jaw on the floor!  At the end, Joe says “Ladies and gentlemen, the best drummer in the world, Mr. Rick Allen!”  Then, a moment later you can hear Joe say, “He is,” to affirm the man’s awesomeness.  These two were released as one solid 8 minute 12 second track.  Then, from the same 1996 show in Montreal is another special track.  Is it “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”?

“Mama take this gin from me,
I can’t drink it anymore,
Where’s the sink, I gotta pee,
Looks like I’m checking into Betty Ford…”

In another moment of “I’m really glad they didn’t cut that,” Joe needed to fill a minute while Phil Collen went to pee!  They left it in.  Joe then turns the microphone over to Phillipe for his song “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, performed acoustically.  Phil does the lead vocal and also the acoustic guitar solo, while it is quite possible that Joe himself went to pee.

“Rock! Rock! Till You Drop” is the only song from Pyromania to be released as part of this series.  By the opening tapes, it sounds like it was the first song of the set in Cardiff, Wales in 1999.  As such, Joe’s got a lot of screaming to do, but he does a good job.  What an opener that must have been!  You have to give these five guys credit for putting a lot of energy into their live performances.  There is a lot of singing, soloing, and riffing to do, and they don’t make it easy for themselves!

The final two songs of the set were recent Euphoria songs, from the Tokyo show in 1999 once again.  The ballad “Goodbye” is just boring as hell.  You gotta get out there and promote the new album and single, but this was never a good album or single.  It was a weak attempt to write another “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”.   Thankfully they saved the best Euphoria song for last, which was “Paper Sun”.  I like when Def Leppard get into that “Gods of War” / “White Lightning” space, and that is what they did with “Paper Sun”.  (It also has shades of “Women”.)  Unfortunately these last two recordings, being new songs and all, feel a little more stiff.  The band weren’t as familiar with them obviously, but I think you can hear it.  Still, what are the chances of Leppard ever playing “Paper Sun” live again?  Slim to none, I’d say.  So who’s complaining?  Not this guy.

Since this time, Leppard have put out plenty of official live product.  There’s the excellent double live Viva! Hysteria, with loads of rarities.  There’s Mirrorball, a double album representing a standard modern Def Leppard concert set.  There was even a bonus live disc added to the deluxe version of Pyromania.  None of those releases have “Demolition Man”, “Goodbye”, “Paper Sun”, “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, or “When Love & Hate Collide”.  That makes this collection pretty special, to this day.

4.5/5 stars

We at LeBrain HQ want to hear from you if you know any more about these tracks.  Any information gleaned such as actual recording or release dates will be happily added to this review.  (Comments regarding trades will be deleted.)

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Two Steps Behind” (1993 CD single)

This is the sixth and final part in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize era, including hard to find B-sides!  This is a bit of a “bonus” review, since this song wasn’t actually on Adrenalize!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0014DEF LEPPARD – “Two Steps Behind” (1993 Phonogram)

From a B-side to an A-side in its own right, “Two Steps Behind” has seen more releases than most Def Leppard songs. Sure, it’s significant that it was Def Leppard’s first acoustic song, but it’s really not that exciting.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger comes a-knockin’ and says “I need a rock band to give me ballad for my new movie” in that threatening Arnie voice of his, nobody’s going to refuse him.*

However it unfolded, “Two Steps Behind” was selected for the Arnie turd, Last Action Hero in 1992, next to bands such as AC/DC, Alice in Chains and Megadeth.  In comparison to the aggressive contributions from them, Def Leppard’s track seemed hopelessly behind the times.  It still charted in the US, going to #5.  It was spruced up with strings courtesy of Michael Kamen, and was given a high-budget music video.

This single falls between two albums.  Visually, the cover art recalls the prior Def Leppard singles with its yellow and red lego, but features the photographic style that the Retro-Active singles would sport.  Since it cleans up a few B-sides from the era that didn’t carry over onto Retro-Active, I’ve decided to include it here.

The first B-side is a “warts and all” acoustic version of “Tonight”.  This was later released on the deluxe Adrenalize as the “Sun Studios version”.  In many regards, it’s as good as the original.  Perhaps it’s even better, with its sparse but rich sound.  Without the layers of a typical Def Leppard recording, the song breaths like never before.

The final track on the single (and this series!) to discuss is “S.M.C.” which is still unavailable anywhere else.  Unfortunately it is only 1:14 long.  Written and performed solely by Collen, it is a pretty acoustic instrumental track.  Jaunty and light, it sounds classical in vibe.  Leppard fans would be well advised to seek out this single, to add this brief guitar workout to their Leppard libraries.

4/5 stars

* I’m not sure that this is exactly how it played out, but it could have!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0015

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”
Part 3: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
Part 4: “Heaven Is”
Part 5: “Tonight”
Bonus Part 6: “Two Steps Behind”

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Tonight” (1993 CD single)

Part five in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, including hard to find B-sides!

DEF LEPPARD – “Tonight” (1993 Phonogram CD singles)

LeBrain HQ has two different “Tonight” singles in the library, each with its own B-sides.  Things get murky when we start looking at singles released in different territories, but each CD features the same great A-side.  Although the lushly layered harmony vocals that lead off the track sound overly sweet, that’s not indicative of the song itself.  “Tonight” is the sparsest ballad on Adrenalize, and also the toughest.  Original guitarist Steve Clark had a hand in writing it, so perhaps he supplied some of the memorable guitar hooks.  As far as the Adrenalize album went, “Tonight” was a highlight in a mixed bag of songs.

The US single has “She’s Too Tough” as its second track, but we already looked at that song (originally released by Helix but written by Joe Elliot) last time.  Skipping to the end, we get a live version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” from the 1992 club tour.  This was from Bonn, Germany and is also available on the deluxe Adrenalize.  I don’t think “Sugar” has ever particularly worked well live.

Onto the UK single, there are some more interesting B-sides. For Def Leppard fans, one of their most memorable appearances had to be the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. As part of their set, Brian May came out on stage to play “Now I’m Here”. What a great version of a Queen song perfectly suited to Def Leppard. With Brian May on stage it doesn’t get much more authentic. From Bonn once again comes “Photograph” performed live.  This is probably the best of the recordings from Bonn.

Unusually for Def Leppard singles of this period, every single track is available elsewhere. “She’s Too Tough” was on the single for “Heaven Is”, and all the live songs were later reissued on the deluxe Adrenalize. Therefore, collectors can breath a little easier. If you don’t have “Tonight”, you probably don’t really need it. If you do, at least the two singles combine to form an excellent listening experience.

4/5 stars

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”
Part 3: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
Part 4: “Heaven Is”

Up next:  bonus instalment  “Two Steps Behind”

REVIEW – Def Leppard “Heaven Is” (1993 CD single)

Part four in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, including hard to find B-sides!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0007DEF LEPPARD – “Heaven Is” (1993 Phonogram CD single)

“Heaven Is” and “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” were released as singles at roughly the same time (different territories and whatnot),  but I don’t have a copy of “Stand Up”.  It doesn’t matter though, since both singles shared the exact same B-sides.  These are an interesting mix of new and old.

The Canadian rock band Helix released “She’s Too Tough” on 1987’s Wild in the Streets album.  While their version is faster and louder, the Leppard version sounds way better.   Helix had production issues on their album, while Leppard recorded theirs with trusted engineer Pete Woodroffe as a quartet during the Adrenalize sessions.  The single contains the original version of the track.  Rick Allen re-recorded the drums in June 1993, and that version was released on the Retro-Active album.  No matter which version you have, it’s an absolute pleasure to hear Leppard with Joe screaming like he used to.

“Elected” is indeed a live cover of the Alice Cooper classic.  This one dates back to 1987 and features the late Steve Clark on guitar!  A young, energized Leppard  have no problem filling this with all the electricity needed.  One must assume the old tapes were not the best, since the credits claim the track was “salvaged” by engineer Pete Woodroffe!  Following this is a new live recording, of “Let’s Get Rocked” in 1992, from Bonn, Germany.  Naturally that means this features the new boy Vivian Campbell on rhythm guitar.  This version, from the 1992 club tour, is available on the deluxe Adrenalize.

As for the A-side itself, “Heaven Is” works as a pleasant enough pop rock song.  Fans were tiring of that schtick, but “Heaven Is” is fine for a second-tier Def Leppard hit.  When Steve Clark died I don’t think the band felt it was the time to stretch out and find new musical avenues.  Writing safe rock was the easiest and probably only real course of action.

4/5 stars

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”
Part 3: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”

Up next:  “Tonight”