Tim McGraw

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

Part Thirty-Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original Review Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

DEF LEPPARD – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 3) (Originally 2008, 2021 remaster)

Finally!  Three misfires in a row (Euphoria, X, Yeah!) and Def Leppard finally had a new album that rocked and was worth listening to again.  While imperfect, the badly-titled new album Songs From the Sparkle Lounge really felt like an actual effort this time.  With the exception of one credit on one song, everything here was written by Def Leppard and only Def Leppard.  And — hallelujah! — no ballads.  What a refreshing turn of events.  A lot of the album was written and recorded on tour.  It seemed like Def Leppard were really listening to the fans who said “We’re tired of pop and ballads.  Please, write us a rock record again like you used to.”

We mostly got it.

Of course, in the press Leppard exaggerated as they often did, comparing the album to High ‘N’ Dry, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin.  And so, the fans knew not to get their hopes up too high.  The album rocked, but not like that.  The standard version of Sparkle Lounge was a tight eleven tracks, just under 40 minutes.  No bloat.  But let’s get to the elephant in the room first.

When discussing this album, dissenters often point to track 2, the first single “Nine Lives” as the main offender.  As a collaboration with Tim McGraw, it reeks of terrible offences committed by Bon Jovi earlier in the decade.  In order to find new success, too many rock bands went to Nashville for fresh names and influences.  Fortunately, Japanese fans were able to buy a version of the album including the song without Tim McGraw, and just Joe Elliott ripping the lead vocals.  That is definitely a preferred experience.  McGraw’s voice makes it sound…not like Def Leppard!  The two worlds simply do not mesh.  Fortunately “Nine Lives” is not a country song, but a hard rocker with a slight twang in the electric guitars.  It’s actually a pretty good song, when you edit Tim out.  So there’s that.

However, opening Songs From the Sparkle Lounge is a song you can only describe as “real” Def Leppard!  Combining the loopy vibe of the Slang era with the riffiness of Pyromania, “Go” is out of the gates on the right note.  It slams.  Heavy, modern, guitar-heavy and hooky without pandering to trends.  It merely combines some of Leppard’s best and heaviest ingredients in a modern way.  The only critique would be the title.  “Go” is a word that Leppard overuse.  “Go”, “Let’s Go”, “Gotta Let It Go”, “Let It Go”…just too much “going” on!

After “Go”, you have to sit through the Tim McGraw song before we’re back to tunes with integrity.  The glam rock “C’Mon C’Mon” was in the vein of that “Pour Some Sugar” sound, ultimately derived from Gary Glitter.   It too was a single (to be discussed next time) and sits comfortably in the Hysteria-style box.  Not exactly like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin as Joe claimed, but not a bad track if a bit too much like a sequel.

“Love” written by Rick Savage was an important tune and surprisingly the longest at 4:17.  It’s the one that they called “not a ballad” and you can get where they were coming from.  Yes there’s a soft acoustic intro but the song is bigger and more dramatic than the average ballad.  A big heavy chunky section rises towards the end.  The acoustic version on the Japanese release could fairly be pigeonholed as a ballad, but the standard album cut it more like Leppard meets Queen.  Freddie and the boys seem to be the biggest influence on “Love”, especially vocally.

Phil Collen wrote “Tomorrow” which is one of the most pop of the tunes, sort of in an Adrenalize mold.  The chorus is solid and there’s a nice guitar part to bite into.  Not a highlight but not a throwaway.  Just a good hard rock tune that sounds great in the car come chorus time.

Vivian Campbell contributed the low groove of “Cruise Control”, whose bassline is the main feature, rolling and churning beneath the song.  Interesting tune with some truly great and adventurous guitar playing from Viv.  Playing for feel and not speed.  But the band reverts to their standard form again on the uptempo rocker “Hallucinate”.  Though the hooks sound like you’ve heard ’em all before, they’re all welcome to return on this great track.

Another solid song, “Only the Good Die Young”, boasts some mellotron that always seems to recall the Beatles.  Not a constituent part of the average Def Leppard rocker, but an enhancement that works well here.  Joe ever references a “diamond in the sky” so it’s probably not coincidence.  A good tune made better by stepping just slightly outside the box without destroying the box.

Joe’s “Bad Actress” is by far the hardest rocker on the album, going full speed ahead to a place that Leppard had not gone in many years.  Pure heavy and reckless rock, pedal to the metal, just givin’ ‘er as much as there is in the gas tank.  This, yes this, is what fans had been begging for!  Something that really drives but still sounds like Def Leppard.  Something that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place in the early years.  Finally, we got “Bad Actress” out of them!

The penultimate track “Come Undone” slows it back down to a deliberate 90s pace.  Decent album track, but might have been considered filler in an earlier age.  Unfortunately, it’s just one of those easy to forget second-last album tracks.

Fortunately, Leppard saved the best track for last:  “Gotta Let It Go”, which rocks so hard on the chorus that it might just rip your head off.  This Vivian contribution opens with deceivingly soft drum programs before absolutely exploding on the epic chorus.  It’s a brilliant slice of songwriting from the Irish rock wizard, and the way the lead and backing vocals overlap on the chorus is just the kind of thing Def Leppard do so exceptionally well.  An absolute triumph that leaves a sweet taste in the mouth when the album is complete.  This kind of closer invites repeat listens.

Sparkle Lounge ends as it began:  rocking.

Fortunately for Def Leppard, a young American fan of both them and Tim McGraw was hitting brand new heights in her fresh solo career.  At just 19 years old, she was born while Def Leppard were still the biggest rock band in the universe.  So, leaning even further into country music, Def Leppard would gain a lot of attention from a new younger crowd thanks to their big fan Taylor Swift.  It seemed a strange move for Leppard to make while they were just starting to rock again, but we’ll discuss the Swift collaboration in a future instalment.

Though Songs From the Sparkle Lounge does contain some fillers and some cuts that fail to stick in the memory, there are no outright “deletes” except arguably the McGraw track.  It doesn’t even fit with the vibe of the album.  The Leppard version should have been in the main album sequence, with the McGraw version as a bonus track and single in special markets.  Guaranteed, this album would be better remembered if that was the case.

3.5/5 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

Next:

35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (12″ picture disc)
36. CMT Crossroads (DVD with Taylor Swift)
37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

#522: Smells Like Tim McGraw

GETTING MORE TALE #522: Smells Like Tim McGraw

Music fans can buy just about anything with their favourite band’s name on it.  While Elvis merchandise and the onslaught of Beatlemania stuff makes for fun collectibles, Kiss really blasted things into overdrive, for better or for worse.  Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, we were inundated with Kiss.  Neighbors on our street had Kiss cards, the Kiss remote control van,  Kiss comics, Kiss posters, books about Kiss and more.  You could buy Kiss dolls.  Kiss Your Face makeup.  Everything!  At the time Kiss were heavily criticized for their merchandising.  Paul and Gene defended it by saying, ‘if our fans want to buy a Kiss hat, then why shouldn’t they be able to buy one?’  Turns out their fans wanted to buy a lot more including cars and coffins!

Now the merchandise door is wide open.  Everybody has dolls; my sister had some wretched New Kids on the Block dolls.  I have a friend who owns the Spice Girls.  I myself own Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.  Today, music celebrities have their own alcohol, such as Motley Brue or The Trooper beer.  Rock stars even have their own hot sauces.  I was a proud owner of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew.  (I’ve never been able to find Michael Anthony’s Mad Anthony sauce.)  I often like to picture Joe Perry hard at work over a boiling pot, mixing specially selected peppers and spices until he finally came up with his own Boneyard Brew.  It’s not impossible, although it is unlikely.

What is very highly unlikely is that Justin Bieber studied perfume chemistry to come up with his own scent, “Girlfriend”.

It seems perfumes and colognes are the latest hot trend in celebrity endorsements.    We are not so naive to think that the stars have anything to all to do with their own perfumes, but look at the list below.  (Courtesy once again of Uncle John’s calendar.)  Taylor Swift and Beyoncé don’t surprise me, but I didn’t know Tim McGraw had his own scent (“Southern Blend”).  Check out some of the interesting names below.

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Who knew Carlos Santana had a scent called “Carlos Santana”?  I wonder who came up with that clever name?  (Whoever they are, they probably make more money than us.) Even Kiss have a cologne, called “KISS Him for Men”. Kiss sell aftershaves and deodorants too. But we can’t blame Kiss for this trend, can we?  This one is on the shoulders of Hollywood.

The first celebrity scent was “Sophia” by Sophia Lauren, in 1981. The Italian film icon’s perfume was released by Coty who work with just about every major celebrity today. That’s not the interesting part. What is interesting is that we might be able to blame Gene Simmons just a little bit for the first music celebrity scent. After all, it was his ex-girlfriend Cher who was the first music star to enter the perfume world. Her scent “Uninhibited” was the first for a music performer. Did her ex-boyfriend’s merchandising ways have anything to do with this? The truth is, probably not — but it’s fun to blame Gene anyway.

With the reigning queens of pop like Katy (“Killer Queen” and “Purr”) and Gaga (“Fame for Women”), not to mention the boy-throbs like One Direction (“Our Moment for Women”), it is likely that music perfumes and colognes will remain big business for years to come.

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (Japanese import)

For Aaron’s KMA review of this same album, click here!

DEF LEPPARD – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008 Deluxe edition, Japanese version)

Could it be? The band who I once wrote off with the Euphoria album, followed by the dismal X, actually came back with something approximating a rock album! And not a bad rock album at that!

The band say that doing the covers album Yeah! revitalized them. Maybe. Personally I thought the covers album sucked, and that the dozen or so bonus tracks available elsewhere were way better than the actual album they released. Whatever. That was then and this is now, inside the Sparkle Lounge.

Terrible title, although I liked the single-disc cover art quite a lot. We know Def Leppard are more of a glam band than a metal band. The problem is, they were such a great metal band! High ‘n’ Dry is a masterpiece of riff-rock. Anyway, if you can forget High ‘n’ Dry, On Through The Night, or even Pyromania, you can get into Sparkle Lounge for what it is: A strong ballad-free return for one of the most beloved rock acts of the last two decades. Even Joe Elliot decided to show up this time, and sing to the best of his ability.

Very few weak tracks, lots of strong ones. “Go”, “Love”, “Hallucinate”, “Tomorrow”, “Only The Good Die Young”, “Bad Actress”…there is some serious fire happening here on these tracks! But the band saved the best new song for last. “Gotta Let It Go” has a riff and melody that fit right in with Def Leppard’s earlier sound. Only the occassional drum programs betray the thunder.

One song that I would call a weak track is the single “C’Mon C’Mon”.  In my review from the 12″ vinyl single, I called it a “crap song”.  It’s a shameless T-Rex rip-off, and also a Def Leppard rip off.  Next!

Japanese bonus tracks are disappointing in the sense that they are not different songs, just different mixes. “Nine Lives” appears without Tim McGraw (this is my preferred version as nu-country is like kryptonite to me and would probably kill me if I was overexposed). “Love” appears as a powerful piano version, in some ways superior to the original, but turning it into a ballad dilutes the purpose of this album.

I have no comments as to the SHM-CD. It sounded the same to me. I guess these things are supposed to last longer? The DVD includes the music video for “Nine Lives” (yuck), an album commentary and a “behind the scenes” feature.  For me, the all-region NTSC DVD contents and the lacklustre packaging don’t really  justify the existence of a “deluxe edition”.

So, whatever went right, this is the best Def Leppard album since the criminally underrated Slang in 1996. It could be the heaviest album since Pyromania. It’s far from perfect, but the good news is you can play it in the car with the windows down and nobody will laugh at you.

3.25/5 stars