Jun 292008

At 37, my affection for hard rock and heavy metal hasn’t waned significantly. So I spend some of my time and money as a music fan looking for current music that evokes my adolescence. I don’t want it sounding just like what I grew up with; rather I want what I used to steadily receive then, which was music that played by a lot of the same rules, but made a few new ones—pushed in an interesting direction. After all, 1982 doesn’t sound like 1989, but they’re both validly identifiable as part of the same movement. The first Velvet Revolver record was a good example of what I’m talking about. Buckcherry mostly gets it. Copy?

I tried using Amazon.com recommendations (and associated reviews) for a while, with only limited success. The closest I’ve come recently with that method is a band called Poets and Pornstars. The Amazon.com page for the album drips with raves, so I took a chance. It’s not bad, but it’s not “old school” either. It reminds me of nothing so much as a Jet record, which is to say it’s a little over-homogenized, with endless pickoffs available for the guy you know who likes to identify ripped-off riffs.

So let’s talk about Def Leppard a bit. It’s inarguable that they were giants in my beloved ’80s, and a true juggernaut, at least through Hysteria. (Try to look past its overexposure, which was substantial indeed.)

But in 1992, it got complicated. Adrenalize was okay, but a little too paint-by-numbers (lacking that “push” mentioned above). Then, it was a nose-dive into goontown. Retro Active was somewhat interesting, but hardly widely appealing, and 1996’s Slang was a U2ified disaster. Euphoria tried to get it back, but came out slicker than a greased otter in a teflon skillet. (Rock ‘n’ roll needs a little nastiness, and you can’t push the buttons and move the slides endlessly. If I want hyperproduction, I’m also a fan of The Human League.) X? Pop. Not Def Leppard. Yeah!? I enjoyed the cover of “Rock On,” actually, but come on, guys, where’s the spiritual follow-up to Hysteria?

I’m pleased to report that Songs from the Sparkle Lounge is that follow-up. This is the Def Leppard album that is 20 years overdue. No apologies or qualifications, dudes and dolls. This is it. If you think I’m correct in my above description of Def Leppard’s decline, and you’ve been similarly wistful for them to get it right, go buy it right now.

It’s lean. It comes in at a little under 40 minutes, prompting some complaints about its (lack of) length. It suits me just fine. I always liked it when an album would fit on one side of a 90-minute cassette. Plus, during the trend of longer albums back in the day, they were mostly good albums made less so by puffing them up with crap anyway. Use Your Illusion, anyone? Hot in the Shade?

The production is slick, but Hysteria was slick too. Even Pyromania and High ‘n’ Dry were, within their respective budgetary constraints. But none of them were overly so. They all translated to the arena beautifully. It’s crunchy rock ‘n’ roll, faithful to both the record and the front row, and that’s a whole lot of the point to me, folks.

There’s enough novelty in tracks like “Go” and “Love” to hit that push, but not offend. The innovative stretch is measured and consistent, rather than ridiculous and contrived. Think (again) of Hysteria. Did the title cut “fit”? Did “Gods of War”? Be honest! You can argue either side of that, can’t you? But do those tracks compromise or enhance the album?

I’ll quit dissecting there, because, well, it’s a good-time rock ‘n’ roll album. Mostly you just need to get it and crank the hell out of it. It’s cruising with your friends. It’s burgers and fries before the concert 20 years ago. You can’t not smile. You can’t not move, whether it’s toe-tapping, head-bobbing, or whatever. They may never do it again, but our favorite Sheffielders managed one more honest-to-God Def Leppard album.

Summer 2008 has a soundtrack.

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