Pour Some Sugar On Me

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Viva! Hysteria – Live at the Joint, Las Vegas (Part 2 – CD 2 & bonus features)

Part Forty-Three of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Viva! Hysteria – Live at the Joint, Las Vegas (Part 2 – CD 2 & bonus features) (2013 Bludgeon Riffola)

When Def Leppard rocked Vegas, they rocked it with far more than just a faithful live reproduction of the Hysteria album.  They also “opened” for themselves as “Ded Flatbird”, and treated the diehards to a set of 15 deep cuts and lesser hits.  For many, this is in fact the superior part of the show.  Indeed, Leppard really pulled some surprises out of the bag, finally satisfying a number of fans who perennially complained, “Why don’t they play ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’?”  With a wink and a smile, they did.  They performed two completely different sets as Ded Flatbird, on March 29 and March 30 2013.

Beginning with the March 29 set, the unlisted intro is a bit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which is not present on the CD, only the DVD.  Then it’s onto the first shocker of the night, and probably the biggest:  non-album B-side “Good Morning Freedom”, from the single “Hello America“.  Straight-ahead riff rock.  It sounds surprisingly at home with the current version of Leppard.  Phil rips a solo and Rick Allen can’t wipe the smile off his face.  For the occasion of opening for himself, Phil Collen wears a shirt.  (Appropriate for an “opening act”, the backdrop is a simple union jack flag, hiding the big screens that would come out for the main set.)

As soon as “Good Morning Freedom” has struck its final chord, and standing in front of a stack of EVH amps, Phil rips into the delicious “Wasted” single.  This song from the first album is the one fans have been begging for, for years.  Joe’s voice is lower and rougher, and perhaps even more effective.  The song is still lethal!  That riff could be the most devastating one in their entire catalogue.

From Pyromania, “Stagefright” is another welcome inclusion.  Joe struggles with the challenging screamin’ vocals but he does the job.  He doesn’t cheat the notes.  This is the Leppard that fans have been wanting to see live all this time.  Then another shock:  from High ‘n’ Dry it’s “Mirror Mirror”!  Joe introduces Ded Flatbird as the best Def Leppard cover band in the world, and he must be right.  The tackle this, one of early Leppard’s sharpest and most melodically riffy songs, with ease.

Joe claims his name is “Booty Ruben” as they kick into the Sweet cover “Action”.  There are several official live versions out there.  This is one of ’em.  Not a song necessary for anyone to need another live version of, but once again Rick Allen can’t seem to stop smiling.  Back to the oldies, it’s another surprise with the early single “Rock Brigade”.  Perhaps by adopting the alternate identity of Booty Ruben (who swears Joe Elliott is a nice guy!), Joe is able to sing these old lyrics from a lifetime ago without feeling too silly.  He sounds awesome on the On Through the Night material.  Their music hadn’t got really screamy yet and Joe rocks it with ease.

Another surprise comes next, albeit a more recent one.  From their last album, Mirror Ball, is the rarely played “Undefeated”.  Though not one of their most outstanding songs, even the generic “Undefeated” deserves to be heard live at least once.  This is to date the only live version you can buy.  “Promises” from Euphoria is the last song of this set, and it sounds really great live with rich backing vocals.

The March 30 Ded Flatbird set brings us another set of delight.  After “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, they go right into “On Through the Night” from High ‘n’ Dry.  A bit “Achilles Last Stand”, isn’t it?  Screamin’ Joe manages well.

The surprising “Slang” from 1996 introduces modern beats.  It sounds good live, if a bit under-energetic.  Sounds like it’s just a little shy of full concert electricity.  But that’s OK.  If energy is what you need, then Leppard come at you with both barrels for the remainder of the set:  it’s all of side one of High ‘n’ Dry, in sequence.  “That ain’t good enough?” asks Joe/Booty.  No, no, it’s plenty good, this is what we have been asking for all this time!

“Let It Go” powers the show forward.  Amazing how close they nail it considering the Def Leppard of today has two different guitar players than the band of 1981.  Yet “Let It Go” is the triumph you want it to be.  “Another Hit and Run” is pure smoke.  Full speed ahead, Screamin’ Joe givin’ it all he’s got, and Viv and Phil ripping the solos while Rick and Rick keep blasting it forward.  “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” brings the tempo down but the temperature up.  What a riff, and what a fist pumper.

The closing pair of “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and “Switch 625” are a thrilling way to end this set.  Like a true guitar duo, Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen walk together to the ramp protruding from the front of the stage, and play “Switch 625” united.  It’s beautiful.  Not to be left out, Ricks Allen and Savage then get a bass/drum outro together.

The DVD has a few more extras to discuss.  There’s a brief and somewhat pointless photo gallery, to the tune of “Animal” live.  None of the photos are on screen long enough to really study.  A better bonus is the “Acoustic Medley”, which is on the DVD but not on CD, except in Japan where it was included as the bonus track.  We’ll discuss this awesome bonus next time.

Viva! Hysteria is an excellent package from top to bottom.  The band were fearless, playing material that they have shied away from for years.  Two CDs, one DVD, and a total of 30 tracks.  Leppard worked hard to get these songs into shape live, and Joe in particular had a lot of challenging material to sing.  They pulled it off, with flying colours, proving that Def Leppard are just as good as they ever were.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah!  (Record Store Tales)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)
  41. iTunes Re-recordings
  42. Viva! Hysteria (CD 1 & DVD)

Next:

44. Viva! Hysteria (Japanese bonus track)
45. Slang (2014 Deluxe bonus tracks)
46. “Helen Wheels” (from The Art of McCartney)
47. Def Leppard (Deluxe and Japanese versions)

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Viva! Hysteria – Live at the Joint, Las Vegas (Part 1 – DVD & CD 1)

Part Forty-Two of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Viva! Hysteria – Live at the Joint, Las Vegas (Part 1 – DVD & CD 1) (2013 Bludgeon Riffola)

In the long history of Def Leppard, one of the greatest things they did was go to Vegas and play all of Hysteria live in sequence.  Joe Elliott worked hard on getting his voice in shape to sing those old songs from 25 years before.  Hysteria was an album where every track was meant to be a potential single.  It’s really the most logical of any record, short of a concept album, to play live in sequence.

This review focuses on Disc 1, the Hysteria set.  The next review will cover Disc 2 and the “Ded Flatbird” set of rare tracks.

You already know Hysteria (or at least you better since we have reviewed it here three separate times).  You know every song is great (with the possible exception of “Excitable”) and you know how important this album was, and still is.  In the opening DVD intro, Joe stresses the importance of writing great songs.*  Hopefully you know every one by heart and can hear the differences.  Viva la difference!

Shirtless Phil Collen opens on a rising platform, playing the opening signature to “Women”.  The DVD looks fantastic, sharp and with great angles.  Rick Allen’s Hysteria kick drum lights up when he hits it.  And check out Joe’s cool Hysteria-striped mic stand.  The recording is also excellent with lots of separation between the guitars.  Dig Rick Allen’s union jack headphones, and check out Joe nailing that first scream before the solo.

“Rocket” has some impressive backing vocals.  The backdrop changes to a wall of TV sets, like the old music video.  The guitars slightly deviate from the album blueprint but only just.  Onto “Animal”, a reliable toe-tapper.  The pace changes with the first ballad “Love Bites” but it’s a natural place to slow it down.  Phil takes some different roads with his guitar parts, adding some new flavours.  The camera lets us see all of Rick Savage’s pedal work too, normally hidden by the stage monitors.  Vivian Campbell does a wonderful job of the classic Steve Clark guitar solo.

 

“Sugar” goes next, always a bit goofy live (if not in the studio).  It’s still an undeniable anthem and the smiles in the audience tell the story.  The backing vocals can be dicey but they are solid as a rock here, with Viv and Shirtless Phil doing the heavy lifting.  Viv takes the spotlight for the “Armageddon It” intro and we’re already halfway through.  There are times in the solo when the Irish axeman just bursts into grins at the Vegas experience.

At this point the lights go out, and old video footage from In the Round: In Your Face goes up on the screens.  It’s a Steve Clark moment, as “Gods of War” was one of his signature songs.  Steve’s unique intro plays before the band comes back live.  It’s almost seamless, as if Clark was there for a brief moment.  Joe Elliott really delivers on this song.

“Don’t Shoot Shotgun” is surprisingly fun, with live vocals instead of the layered and sequenced album counterparts.  Now that we’re on side two of Hysteria, Viv has shed his jacket and changed his colour palette from blue to red.  It must be said, the Irishman does an impeccable job of paying tribute to Steve Clark’s solos.

On the demanding “Run Riot”, Joe does the best he can with his voice at his age, but this is the first point of the show where it’s really noticeable.  Though he’s hitting the notes, the depth of grit and power can’t be matched.  And that’s fine.  That’s not a criticism, just an observation for the purposes of this review.

“Hysteria” is the centerpiece.  Majestic; magical, mysteria!  This version is as good as any other live version.  They always do it well.  But “Excitable” might the surprise.  Is it better live, stripped of the samples and loopiness?  It may well be.  It’s certainly harder.  Screamin’ Joe absolutely nails every high on this one.

Hard to believe we’re already there, but it’s the Hysteria album closer, “Love and Affection”.  Always one of those deep cuts that should have been a commercial single, “Love and Affection” rules.  Vocally, it too is very demanding and so the album version cannot quite be matched.  Close, though!  Very close.

Joe Elliott does not get enough credit.  As a singer, a songwriter, and just awesome human.  He does not get enough credit.

Encore?  Of course!  “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”; two essential songs from Pyromania.  They need to be there.  So there they are.  For deeper cuts, we’ll have to wait until Disc 2, the “Ded Flatbird” set (which is Def Leppard opening for themselves with a set of rarities).  As for the Viva! Hysteria portion of the package, it’s a completely satisfying disc.

As an unlisted extra, the end credits are to the tune of the 2013 re-recording of “Hysteria”.  A physical release, albeit DVD and not CD.

5/5 stars

 

* Some of this footage is recycled from the Visualize DVD, including Steve Clark interview material.

 

 

 

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah!  (Record Store Tales)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)
  41. iTunes Re-recordings

Next:

43. Viva! Hysteria (CD 2 and DVD extras)
44. Slang (2014 Deluxe bonus tracks)
45. “Helen Wheels” (from The Art of McCartney)
46. Def Leppard (Deluxe and Japanese versions)

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – iTunes re-recordings (2012-2013)

Part Forty-One of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original reviews: 

DEF LEPPARD – iTunes re-recordings (2012-2013)

It began in 2010.  After a long absence from the digital platform, Rick Savage of Def Leppard announced that their music would soon be available to buy on iTunes.  Due to a long dispute over dollars and cents with the record label, Leppard’s albums were not yet available on the platform.  Then, due to “some twat at the label” (according to Joe!), somebody reneged and the deal never came to be.  As a short-term solution, Def Leppard decided to record new versions of old hits exclusively for iTunes.

The first of these new versions, affectionately called “forgeries” by Joe, came in 2012.  It was a double-A sided single (to use ancient terminology) for “Pour Some Sugar On Me (2012)” and “Rock of Ages (2012)”.

Beginning with “Sugar”, the opening guitar figure is virtually indistinguishable from the 1987 original.  Only the “Hey!” vocals really hint this is not your old “Sugar”.  Joe Elliott sounds a teeny bit rougher around the edges, but just a smidge.  This is the same version used on the Family Guy / Simpsons crossover episode, for Peter and Homer’s “sexy car wash”.  Only serious fans will know immediately this is a forgery.  Everyone else should be happy thinking they’re listening to the same recording they had on their Walkmans in highschool.

From the “Gunta Gleeben Glooten Globen”, it’s clear “Rock of Ages” is also pretty close.  Being more reliant on the vocals, it becomes more evident early on this is a re-recording, but it is an admirable job.  The backing music and even the mix is eerily similar.  It’s just impossible for anyone to scream as if it’s 1983.

The next re-recording released in 2012 was a single track, but a medley of acoustic hits.  This is less a forgery and more a re-imagining and re-framing of some big and lesser known songs.  The abbreviated tracks performed in order are:

  • 0:00 to 1:01: “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”
  • 1:02 to 2:06: “Now”
  • 2:07 to 3:22: “When Love and Hate Collide”
  • 3:23 to 4:36: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
  • 4:37 to 7:32: “Two Steps Behind”

Joe’s in fantastic form on this medley and even though it’s an acoustic performance, there’s care and production value, not just acoustic guitars.  They obviously spent time arranging this medley, because it flows incredibly well from song to song, focusing on the best parts.  It also includes the complete “Two Steps Behind” as the closer.

The final iTunes re-recording came early in 2013.  One more ballad, but not acoustic:  this was “Hysteria”, which coincided with their Viva! Hysteria shows in Las Vegas.  This one might be the closest of all the forgeries.  Joe worked hard to get his voice in vintage shape again for those shows, and “Hysteria” shows it.  Easily the most satisfying of all the tracks.  The backing vocals are so bang-on, you’d think Mutt Lange himself stepped into the room to record them all, a note at a time.

Today, only the 2012 acoustic medley is still available to buy on iTunes.  The other three tracks have disappeared.  One of those cases of “you snooze you lose” in the digital world!

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah!  (Record Store Tales)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)

Next:

42. Viva! Hysteria

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

Part Thirty-Six of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original ReviewCMT Crossroads (2009)

Dedication (noun):  The character trait of being so devoted to a project that you will watch the Taylor Swift & Def Leppard DVD one more time, even though you reviewed it once before and swore you’d never watch it again.

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

You can blame Rick Allen’s brother for this DVD.  How did pop country songstress Taylor Swift and Def Leppard hook up?  Taylor was on tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill whose tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. You might recognize McGraw from the song “Nine Lives” on Leppard’s last album Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.  Swift expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with Leppard and eventually they made it happen.  Lucky us.

The DVD starts immediately, no big long intro, with “Photograph”.  In a democratic way of doing things, it’s a Def Leppard song to open, but Taylor Swift getting the first lines.  Her smooth voice doesn’t sound right with Screamin’ Joe’s vocal lines, and takes some getting used to with these songs.  You can’t really hear her fiddle player or acoustic guitarists on “Photograph” but they sure are having fun.

The concert is intercut with interviews that help bring the context to this odd collaboration.  Taylor was born two years after Hysteria, but was exposed to Leppard’s music from birth.  She had been wanting to do a show with Leppard for some time so she made it happen.  It’s also fun watching her learn British slang.

Taylor’s “Picture To Burn” is…well, it’s a song about some guy who drives a pickup truck, it seems.  No matter how much they try to convince us that Leppard and Swift are not all that different, they sure are.  “Love Story” is more like a Leppard ballad and isn’t so hard to swallow.  Finally we get to “Hysteria” which works remarkably well as a duet.  Taylor’s vocals add rather than subtract.  You can actually hear certain parts of her massive backing back on this as well, plinking here and fiddling there.

A blues jam about Taylor’s boy trouble is amusing.  “Teardrops On My Guitar” is a nice song, a little more understated and quiet.  Stage choreography seems important with so many band members on stage, and they all seem to have their places and times.  Leppard’s ballad “When Love and Hate Collide” is one song that is the most transformed by the collaboration.  It sounds at home in both worlds.  Taylor reveals she’s long had an obsession with this hit.  It’s very fun to see Joe give her the last line of the song too.

Taylor’s “Should’ve Said No” is upbeat and twangy.  A little bit rock and roll, something a little more familiar.  There’s a great march-like arrangement towards the ending, and then the drums start thumping and you know what that means.  “Pour Some Sugar On Me” has never sounded like this before.  Fiddles and double drums…it actually sounds pretty good.  And that’s the closing song of what is a fun but definitely jarring set of hits.

The three bonus tracks are “Our Song” (written in 9th grade for Taylor’s highschool talent show), “Love” (new Leppard song), and “Two Steps Behind”.  These Taylor songs really take some effort to digest when you’re a Leppard fan, until Joe starts singing at least.  Giving her credit, Taylor sure knows how to command an audience, but it’s irritating to see Vivian ripping up the fretboard, but being unable to hear him in the mix.  More interesting is “Love”, the only choice from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.  It really benefits from all the extra backing singers and musicians, becoming something really big and huge.  The final bonus track “Two Steps Behind” has eight guitar players and a nice intro from Joe explaining how the song was written electrically in 1989 to become a hit acoustically later in 1993.

To Def Leppard fans at least, some of the best content might be contained in the bonus interviews.  It’s clear Leppard had a new but genuine appreciation for Taylor Swift and how her songs are constructed.  They discuss all the things they have in common with Taylor, such as age.  Rick Allen turned 16 opening for AC/DC and Taylor of course released her first hit album at 16.  Allen reveals his parents were supportive of him leaving highschool in order to tour with Def Leppard, but made him get a tutor.  They understood that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Both artists discuss what it’s like to be pigeonholed into a genre be it “country” or “heavy metal”.  But the coolest thing is the foreshadowing of Leppard’s new album Diamond Star Halos.  “You know who else is a huge Def Leppard fan?  Alison Krauss,” reveals Taylor.  And in 2022 she too collaborated with Def Leppard.

In addition to the interviews, there’s a press conference with Joe, Phil and Taylor where they discuss their history with each others’ music.  They are obviously having fun with their collaboration, even if you are not.  One of the things Joe says is that they would love to work with Taylor in the studio any time anywhere.  Rather than ask why this hasn’t happened any time in the last 13 years, let’s just be glad it hasn’t.  This is a difficult DVD for the Leppard fan to finish in one sitting so let’s just be glad that’s all there is.

2.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)

Next:

37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Slang” (1996 UK single)

Part Nineteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

Alternate review:  “Slang” Souvenir pack single

DEF LEPPARD – “Slang” (1996 UK Mercury single)

Kobayashi Maru:  The no-win scenario.  By 1996 the musical landscape had drastically shifted.  Five years of musical upheaval had left many bands in the dust, but Leppard were one of the few survivors.  They simply could not rest of their laurels, and they knew that.  Had Def Leppard come out with another soundalike album in 1996, they would have been accused of retreading the outdated and obsolete 1980s.

We knew Leppard were interested in a more organic way of recording after being locked in studios for so many years.  Their interest in acoustic music was now expressing itself in songs like “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame”, a truly excellent if obscure Japanese Vault bonus track that was also included as a B-side from the new album Slang.  If a track this solid was considered a B-side, you could imagine what the new album was going to be like.  It was a positive sign.  But the album wasn’t going to be acoustic.  Where were Leppard headed this time?

A clue was revealed by the title track, released as a single in May 1996.  Def Leppard had returned to experimentation.  Just as Hysteria was different from Pyromania, now they finally had something just as different from Hysteria.

With hip-hop beats and a big guitar, “Slang” shocked the faithful.  Rick Allen was starting to incorporate acoustic drums back into his kit and they sounded fresh and hot.  All the old Leppard ingredients were shaken n’ stirred, and the new concoction was an acquired addiction.  It’s an upbeat celebration of the new Leppard.  They had indeed gone outside the box.  They had to.  And they did it with creativity and integrity whether you like it or not.

This UK single came with three acoustic bonus tracks, all recorded for the BBC.  Continuing their acoustic side road, “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” fare well in acoustic form.  Other acoustic versions were coming, on a limited 2 CD edition of Slang (which we will discuss when we get to that disc of CD Collection Vol 2).

The real treat of this single is the acoustic version of “Ziggy Stardust” (also included on CD Collection Vol 3).  A brilliant take, in fact.  Most bands sound like jackasses trying to cover classic Bowie.  Not Def Leppard.  Their acoustic version has just as much edge as an electric take would.  Joe Elliott’s penchant for Bowie will become relevant a few years down the road, when we take a detour on a Cybernautic misadventure.

“Sugar” and “Animal” acoustic at the BBC remain exclusive to this single.  Worth tracking down.  Though ultimately there are other recordings out there, these are just as good and collectible as ever.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive

Next:

20. Slang

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – In the Round In Your Face (1989)

Part Eleven of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – In the Round In Your Face (1989 VHS, 2001 Universal DVD)

When I was a kid, in love with music and watching every video on television, there was only one concert I wanted to see.  Grade 10, going on grade 11, the only show I craved was Def Leppard.  Their innovative stage in the round, in the center of the arena, seemed like the ultimate package.  But I was just too young and had no one to go with, so I never made it.  Fortunately, Def Leppard released a home video to satisfy those of us who could not be there.  I rented the tape from Steve’s TV and made a copy.  It was the best I could do on my allowance.  To make up for it, I bought it three times since on different formats (VHS, DVD, CD).

I popped the tape into the VCR with anticipation.  A sped-up collage of the stage assembly flashed before my eyes, to the sound of “Rocket”.  A massive undertaking, but this was just pre-amble.  The show was about to begin!

It was just as I had heard about in the highschool halls.  The stage was draped on all four sides by massive Hysteria curtains.

“I know what you’re thinking,” says Clint Eastwood over the sound system.  “‘Did he fire six shots, or only five?’  Well to tell you the truth you know in all is excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.”  A laser show begins dancing on the curtains.  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question.  ‘Do I feel lucky?’  Well do ya, punk (punk punk punk)?”  

Guitars replace the echo of Eastwood’s voice.

“I said welcome to my show!” screams Joe Elliot, teasing us before the curtains finally crash down and “Stagefright” kicks off the proceedings!  Even in my armchair, there’s still goosebumps.

Def Leppard rip through “Stagefright”, completely in control, on fire as hot as their early days.  Each member throws shapes on stage while Rick Allen keeps the whole thing moving, on drums in the middle.  Leppard’s stage is not flat, with catwalks and staircases for the band to run and jump all over, which they do.  Overhead cameras capture everything, from every angle.  Nobody but Allen is confined to one space, as the band leap from place to place in the name of entertainment.

Continuing with the Pyromania, “Rock! Rock!” keeps the pace going at full speed.  It brings a tear to the eye, seeing Steve Clark do his trademark whirlwind moves on stage, accented by his red scarf and made only more perfect in the round setting.  A reminder that this was it — the last high point of the Clark era.  Fortunately captured on camera and tape.

The first new song, and break in tempo, is “Women”.  This is the famous version released as a single B-side with the “We got everything we need!” intro.  You know it, you love it, it’s legendary:  the live version of “Women”.  Rick Savage mans the keyboard station for the time being while the lights get dimmer.  Lots of echo on this one to duplicate the album ambience.  “Too Late For Love” — a damn fine version — brings a ballady vibe, which they then lean into fully on an early appearance of “Hysteria”.  The live version of “Hysteria” is lengthier with an extended bass intro.  It feels like Def Leppard are a band with four frontmen, with the amount of shape-throwing going on here!  And, for a moment, Joe Elliott on rhythm guitar!  A funny little 80s axe with no headstock it is, locking down the riff while Steve and Phil embark on a glorious dual-guitar harmony solo.

Steve Clark gets a mini-solo to open “Gods Of War”, a Leppard epic that really shines in the live setting.  We always thought it should have been the 8th Hysteria single.  Rick Savage on acoustic guitar during the outro.  The lights blast at the end, simulation “the bomb” and the band exist the stage as the lights go black.  It’s a perfect transition to the gunshot sound effects that open “Die Hard the Hunter”.  Lighters up!  Off goes Phil’s shirt.  This track is a return to the tempo of the opening duo, all three being from Pyromania.

Indeed, it is time to address the setlist.  You may have noticed all the tracks are from Pyromania and Hysteria thus far.  There is nothing from On Through the Night, and only one from High N’ Dry:  “Bringing On the Heartbreak”.  “This is one of our earlier songs, that we’re going to play a brand new way for ya,” says Joe.  It seems they were trying to focus on the big albums that people had heard on MTV rather than their heavier metallic roots on this tour.  Phil Collen gets a nice acoustic intro to show off his skills, along with Steve on doubleneck.  This new semi-acoustic version of “Heartbreak” was so the band wouldn’t get sick of the song; it’s interesting anyway.

“Foolin'” ushers in a long stream of big, big hits.  Steve’s still rockin’ the doubleneck.  Then “Armageddon It” is nice and fresh.  Much of this footage will be familiar to fans of the music video.  “Animal” is tight, and received with a rapturous applause.  Lots of girls in the front row dancing to this one.

There’s a touching moment in the “Pour Some Sugar On Me” intro when Joe says that the return of Rick Allen “the Thundergod” on drums was the biggest “up” that the band ever had.  They then make easy work of the hit single.  Phil takes a solo rip on the fretboard before “Rock of Ages”, and then of course the obligatory long audience singalong section.  (“You can do better than that!”)  The encore “Photograph” closes the show, and a great song to do it with.  Shirts are no longer required where Joe and Steve are concerned.

This video was expertly directed by Wayne Isham.  It is simply one of the best shot and edited live concerts available on DVD.  It’s also – sadly – a document of the last stand for this lineup of the band.  They had hit the top.  Unfortunately you can never stay.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

 

Next:

12. The Wait for Adrenalize (Record Store Tales)

THREE-VIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

Part Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

Deluxe edition review:  Hysteria deluxe (2006)
30th Anniversary edition review:  Hysteria 5 CD 30th (2017)
Classic Albums DVD review:  Hysteria (2002)
Historia VHS review (1988)

Note:  This being the third Hysteria album review, we will be taking a different approach.  The first two reviews were detailed and comprehensive so please check those out for all the nitty gritty.  This one will be more nostalgic in nature.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987 Vertigo)

Kiss were always my “favourite band”, but the majority of my highschool years from 1987 to 1989 were all about Def Leppard.  Although they wanted to be the biggest band in the world with this album, many of us were cheering for them to win.  The band had endured years of adversity since the triumph of Pyromania.

Most obviously was Rick Allen’s car accident.  It was hard to imagine how the drummer was going to come back from it, losing his left arm and almost his right as well.  But he did.  He frickin’ did it.  Rick Allen, the Thundergod, returned and Joe Elliott said it was biggest “up” the band ever had.  How could you not want them to win under those circumstances?

The biggest change on Hysteria (so named to characterise the last four years of their lives) was obviously the drum kit.  Rick Allen had a style, employing classic grip and wicked rolls.  Now he had a new electronic kit, with samples triggered by foot pedals and an arsenal of modern sounds.  Allen adapted with a fresh style, leading the charge with a chugga-chugga and some bam-pow.  His new style is one of the defining traits of Hysteria.

The first single here, and first taste of the new Leppard, was “Women”, an unorthodox pick.  A slow grind led by a synth-y sounding bassline from Rick Savage, it is neither a ballad nor a scorcher.  It’s not immediately catchy either, but it drew us all back in for a second third and fourth lesson until we were hooked.  The sound:  clean, precise, with layers of vocals and assorted melodic tones.  But shit, did the band ever look cool in the video.

Hysteria arrived on my tape deck Christmas of 1987.  It quickly monopolized my listening time, though it took a couple spins to “get it”.

“Rocket” threw me for a loop.  I considered it filler; too contemporary and not enough rock.  Bogged down with samples, backwards vocals and tricks.  It sounded like the kind of song that would be impossible to perform live (though they did).  Over the years I’ve warmed up to “Rocket”.  The tribal beat inspired by Burundi Black makes it quite unique in hard rock, and the lyrics are delightful once you realize that Joe’s just naming all his favourite bands and albums.  The meticulously recorded chorus really illustrates the intricate kind of process at hand.  Each voice recorded separately and mixed down to the final product.  Then there’s the long droning middle section, a unique construction worthy of a detailed listen.  “Rocket” was another odd selection for a single, but it was a hit as the seventh and final one almost two years after the album was released.

It was hard to resist “Animal”, even though it was a blatant sonic declaration that Leppard were going for hits.  As the second single from the album, it made some impact with its circus-themed music video.  Light rock, with a punchy chorus, “Animal” was a well-written track with yet more of those immaculately recorded backing vocals.  In the lead singer department, Joe was content to sing more and scream less, a trend that would continue.  The fact is, the guy didn’t have to scream, though he’s terribly good at it.

Hysteria has a variety of tracks, but only two are ballads.  “Love Bites” was selected as fifth single, and a smash hit it was.  I wondered why they used a Judas Priest song title, but the song actually has country origins.  Producer “Mutt” Lange brought the bones of it to the band as a twangy country song.  The end product is nothing like that, with odd computerized voices and a slow dramatic build.  Like every song on the album, the chorus kills.  The band (with Lange) had really honed in on writing and recording technically perfect songs.  There’s a lot going on in the mix on “Love Bites” but none of it is wasted.  Everything’s necessary for the right vibe.

“Step inside, walk this way!  It’s you n’ me babe, hey hey!”  Shakespeare it ain’t.  A hit, it was!  “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, the fourth single, was the breakthrough smash that launched this album on the charts for two years.  Def Leppard had ripped off a couple classic rock tunes here, but they were selling them to kids who never heard the originals.  Mixing rap and rock, Leppard sold a bajillion singles and umptillion albums to kids worldwide.  It wasn’t even an obvious hit.  The genre-bending song took some getting used to initially.

Closing side one, the sixth single:  “Armageddon It”.  The stuttering guitar riff made it easy to like, if a bit light.  This tune is fun to listen to with headphones on, to help break down all the different tracks of guitar.  The cool thing that each guitar part is catchy on its own.

The North American videos for “Sugar” and “Armageddon It” were filmed live, and showed off Leppard’s innovative “in the round” stage.  From the TV in the basement, it sure looked like the ultimate concert experience.  We’d get a full taste of it on the In the Round: In Your Face home video (1989).  Today you can get this concert on both CD and DVD.   The CD version is included in the comprehensive Hysteria 30th Anniversary box set.

Opening side two is the track we all thought should have been a single:  “Gods of War”, an epic in its own right, from the same lineage as “Overture” from the 1980 debut album.  With Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sampled in the tune, it just sounded cool.  Steve Clark’s E-bow opening drone sets the stage for a dramatic tune full of riffs, hooks and guitar action.  It’s not political, just anti-war like many Ozzy tunes of the time.  Its length probably prohibited it from being a single…but they did edit down “Rocket”.

The first non-single on the album is the hard rocker “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.  Some odd vocal effects keep it from being a standard guitar rocker; almost every song on Hysteria has some strange twist in the mix.  Though more laid back in groove, this is the first tune that hearkens back to old Leppard.  Slicker, sugar coated and easier to swallow though.  It is paired with “Run Riot”, a similar track with a faster tempo.  Tasty guitars from Collen and Clarke, chugging drums from the Thundergod.  Screamin’ Joe sounding like the Joe from Pyromania, and Savage sounding less synth-y than the other tracks.

The last single on the album was actually the third single released:  the brilliant title track “Hysteria”.  The diamond-like flawless ballad was laid down literally one note at a time, giving it a precise but delicate nature.  It was arguably the most pop Leppard had ever been, and that’s just fine.  When you have a song this good, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  Best tune on the album?  Arguably.  The precise picking is delectable and Joe has one of his best vocal performances right here.  Unlike other songs on the album, it’s low on sonic gimmicks.

If there was one song to eject from the album, it’s the penultimate track “Excitable”.  Back to gimmicks, it relies too much on samples and weird digitally manipulated vocals.  It sounds like it was intended to be a crossover hit.  It could have been replaced by a superior B-side (which we’ll get to).

The album closer is a majestic mid-tempo not-quite-ballad-thing called “Love and Affection”, possibly the second best tune on the whole album after “Hysteria” itself.  It’s all about taste, but this deep cut is one of the strongest.  It’s all about the song, no extra trimmings, just melody and arrangement.  It easily could have been a single.  There’s this one chunky Steve Clark lick that just slays me.  Rick Allen’s pound has never been more suited to a track as it slams through the chorus.  A really triumphant track that I would have released as ninth single after “Gods of War”!

Although it took a year (until the release of “Sugar”) to recoup its costs, Hysteria was an undisputed win for the band that worked so hard for it.  Their loyalty to their drummer was not to lost to fans and media alike, and actually worked in their favour creating a new and exciting 80s rock sound.

But there was more to Hysteria than just the 12 tracks.  Remixes and live material aside, there were five notable B-sides.  All excellent in their own right.

Backing “Women” was the straight-ahead rocker “Tear It Down”.  These B-sides were not produced by Mutt and therefore have a more raw edge, akin to older Leppard.  “Tear It Down” rocked relentess, hard but mid-tempo cool.  After a one-off live TV performance, the song was earmarked for re-recording on the next album….

On the flipside of “Animal” we find “I Wanna to Be Your Hero”, with a ballady opening and hard rocking middle.  How did this song not make the album?  Clearly one of the best tunes, it has both a chugging riff and a pop-smart melody.

The heaviest tune backed the softest.  “Ride Into the Sun” was the B-side to “Hysteria”, and what a smoker it is.  A re-recording of a song from the Def Leppard EP, it is also re-arranged with new lyrics and new chorus.  It’s far superior and kicks every ass in the room.  The B-side to “Sugar” was “Ring of Fire”, just as heavy as “Ride Into the Sun” but not as immediately catchy.

Finally, the last of the B-sides was a cover.  A very confusing cover indeed.  “Release Me” featured their roadie Malvin Mortimer doing something that might be considered singing.  To add to the mess, the band all switched instruments with Joe on piano, so nobody really knew what they were doing.  The band credited the song to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys” and in the liner notes, Joe claimed “Rarely in my travels have I come across such a monumental talent as Stumpus Maximus.”  Only when Stumpus unfurls his unholy screams at exactly 2:36 did I get the joke.

The Hysteria sessions yielded some unfinished material as well, that Leppard would finally release in the 1990s.  One of these tunes, a screaming “She’s Too Tough”, first saw the light of day on Helix’s 1987 album Wild in the Streets, released two months ahead of Hysteria.  Brian Vollmer is one of the few singers who can do justice to Joe’s challenging vocal.

Hysteria is available in a comprehensive 5 CD/2 DVD box set with all the B-sides, remixes, and live tracks.  It includes the Classic Albums “making of” documentary, all the music videos, and the entire In the Round: In Your Face concert on CD.   It is, without a doubt, the best way to own the most important Def Leppard album.

But before you buy, some perspective.

There’s a legendary 0/10 review by Martin Popoff that I’d like to share some quotes from.  If I’m over-enthusiastic about Hysteria, then consider this.

  • “High tech, tasteless, and devoid of life whatsoever.”
  • “Even Elliott’s vocals, probably the last vestige that hasn’t completely been swallowed by robots, sound like some kind of dry-wheezing mechanical lung wired to the man’s death bed.”
  • Hysteria is a major assault to anyone’s intelligence.”
  • “An offensive kick in the head sent straight from the rock ‘n’ roll bored room.”

Take my rating with a grain of salt.

5/5 stars

 

Gallery of single covers

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Next:  

 10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (2017 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

This is the ultimate review of Hysteria. Some material is recycled from:

This review covers everything you need to know about the ultimate version of Hysteria.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (2017 Universal 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary 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 to surpass Pyromania.  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.

Disc One:  The original album (Hysteria)

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 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.

Hysteria had two more tracks as good as the singles, although they were not.  “Gods of War” became a fan favourite, and easily could have been an eighth single.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark.  He was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.  The final track that could have worked as a single was the album closer, the ballady “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 would have been highlights on a lesser album.  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.

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.

Disc Two & Three:  B-Sides and Remixes

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.  The four key must-have B-sides were all exclusive studio tracks, and the first four on the second CD of this set.

“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.  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!   Next, “Ride into the Sun” is a remake of a track from the original 1979 Def Leppard EP.  The 1987 update is heavier and far better, a truly impressive upgrade.  Finally “Ring of Fire” was even heavier than that, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.

The second disc features all the radio edits done for Hysteria‘s singles.  Even to collectors, this is padding.  Only one radio edit seems to hit the nostalgic notes, which is “Women” with a fade out ending.  Incidentally, the only single from Hysteria that didn’t get a single edit was “Animal”, already short at 4:04.

Most important is the cover version of  “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 on each others’ instruments, “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 sucked!  A hilarious novelty.

Disc two concludes with an 18 minute radio special from the BBC, going through Hysteria‘s songs with Joe Elliott.   The third disc consists of remixes and live B-sides from the period.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  A welcome inclusion is the single edit of “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  This was excluded from the previous 2 CD deluxe of Hysteria.  The video mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is still 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.

The live B-sides feature the fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley. It seamlessly captures key riffs of classic rock tunes:  “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.  Then it’s 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.  Finally there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig).  One live B-side is missing, though you can understand why, it is still annoying.  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover (same gig again), was on the 2 CD deluxe edition.  It was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.  Because it’s not from a Hysteria single, it was dropped from this box set.  Too bad.

Disc Four & Five:  In the Round In Your Face (Live)

When  I was a young fella, massively into Def Leppard, In the Round In Your Face (taped in Denver over two nights) was the very first live home video I ever bought.  To finally, finally have a proper audio edition…there are no words to express the happiness!  It always should have been a double live album release and not just a video, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The legendary set consists of hits from Hysteria, Pyromania, and “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” from High N’ Dry.  From the unforgettable Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” intro, to the final song “Photograph”, it’s non-stop fun.  Though today there is plenty of live Leppard available, nothing tops vintage Joe Elliott screaming like a kid.  Aside from a flawless track selection, highlights of the concert include Phil Collen’s new acoustic intro to “Heartbreak”.  “Gods of War” is heavy and powerful.  “Too Late For Love” gives me chills.  Of the newer songs, “Women” is notable for being included as one of the B-sides for “Rocket”.  Instead of putting it on the previous disc, it was left intact here, with the concert it came from.  Of course, we mustn’t forget what really makes this concert special.  Steven Maynard Clark didn’t survive to do another tour with Def Leppard, and this would be the last live recording with him on it.

DVD Disc One:  Visual Hysteria

This disc is a new compilation of video clips, the first four of which are previously unreleased.  Leppard have three Hysteria-related appearances on Top of the Pops:  “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “and “Rocket”.  These lip-synced television appearances are almost comical as people scream for a band miming a hit song.  The showmanship of Steve Clark, in his billowy white pants, is sorely missed.  What a rock star!  On “Animal”, frontman Joe Elliott appears to have pulled a Derek Smalls and stuffed his trousers.  Note Phil’s ahead-of-the-times Metallica shirt during “Sugar”.  Unfortunately “Rocket” fades out early.  Though these videos are old and washed-out, it’s a hoot to have them.  Leppard lip-sync again on a familiar video of “Sugar” from the Brit awards.

Music videos were a huge part of the marketing for Hysteria, and a key component to its success.  Each one is here, including both the UK and US versions of “Sugar”.  These videos bring back such a nostalgic glow.  I remember seeing “Women” for the first time, thinking how amazing it was that Def Leppard were back.  I also thought about how brave Rick Allen was.  He didn’t try to hide his injury.  The slow-mo effect of “Hysteria” brings back a lot of memories, as does “Love Bites”.  It was a huge hit video in Canada, during a very cool autumn.

DVD Disc Two:  Classic Albums

Of all the Classic Albums series DVDs, this was one of my most frequently played.  It is now reissued as part of the 30th anniversary box set, a perfect place for it.  In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of documentaries that go back to the original master tapes.  Hysteria is one of many albums they have covered.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and current Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that his work was done; Allen did not need any more help.  And that was it!

The books and packaging

This iteration of Hysteria comes with four individual books and a poster suitable for framing.  The Big Book of Hysteria is the main event.  Adorned with pictures and full credits, this tells the story of the album from the band’s point of view.  There were details in this book that even I wasn’t previously aware of.   Why did Rick Savage play guitar on “Hysteria”?  What was the original planned 10 track running order of the album?  You’ll find that in this book.  There is also a track by track rundown of the album by the band.

Next:   Ross Halfin’s Portraits of Hysteria.  This photo book has many of the classic pictures you will remember from this period.  I had several of these as posters on my wall.  Halfin was responsible for all of them!

A lovely miniature reproduction of the 1988 UK tour book is complete with cut-outs and even more Halfin photos.  Tour books are large affairs, and this being a small reproduction, the text is hard to read.  Especially for us old enough to have an original North American tour program in the house.

Lastly, and perhaps most lovely, is the Discography book.  Inside are photos and release details of every obscure version ever released of Hysteria, all its singles and more.  It’s exhaustive and assembled with consultation from a fan expert.

All seven discs, books and poster are packed in a nice looking, compact box.  Each disc has its own gatefold sleeve with yet more memorable pictures inside.  They nest inside a cardboard tray with the Union Jack printed on it.  Perfect!

Conclusion

I’ve had Hysteria five times now.  The first was a gift for Christmas of ’87.  I upgraded to CD when I was working at the Record Store.  I bought the 2006 2 CD deluxe edition, the DVD of Classic Albums, and Hysteria on 180 gram vinyl.  I hope this 30th anniversary box set is the last time I have to do so.  I can’t imagine what could entice me to buy it again.  A 5.1 surround sound mix?  Please, rock gods, don’t do that.

I love Hysteria.  But let’s hope this is the last of it.

5/5 stars

 

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

 

 

 

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. Taylor 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