|Def Leppard Songs From The Sparkle Lounge||Universal|
There is a phenomenon one must first overcome before reviewing any Def Leppard release. It is a two-pronged affliction - first there is the pre-album "Euphoria" that one experiences – a result of excessive happiness due to the fact an album is actually being released. Then there is the post-album "Hysteria" that comes from the initial playback of the new album. Such emotions caused by the end of multi-year wait for new music can at times cloud judgment of the new music on offer can lead people to be more complimentary than they otherwise would a few months down the track.|
This phenomenon is not unique to Def Leppard fans, but with albums consistently years apart, it is a common feeling I know fans suffer from and will relate to.
So with this in mind, I have been giving this album a thorough workout for nearly 2 weeks now. Yes, I got an advance copy a week before it was released.
I don't like to rush out reviews for the sake of getting them done on time and in past cases I have had a lot of listening time to judge records before posting a verdict.
Both X and Yeah! were with me a while before reviewing – in the case of the latter, I think we've covered that saga beyond all necessary boundaries.
I have lived with this album for a shorter period than those 2 albums, but I am confident that after a couple of weeks of absolute hammering, I know this album inside out and feel comfortable with the final verdict.
What makes this album easier to review, is the fact that there really isn't that much to it. Not compared with past albums at least. No 70 minutes to get to know or 13 or 14 tracks to absorb and no multi-layered intense production to tend with.
Songs From The Sparkle Lounge is a simple, stripped back 11 song, 40 minute affair that is pretty much memorized after a dozen listens.
There is an interesting contrast between two iconic British rock acts both releasing new albums at the same time after a several year wait for new material.
Whitesnake has decided to use their classic sound to the best of their abilities, mixing the best elements of their past history.
Def Leppard on the other hand have decided to continue on the stripped back 70s glam influenced path that they started out on with Yeah!, mixing things up a little more for this album of all new studio material.
Yes, the band rocks harder than they have for sometime, but I'm not sure it is as memorable. I think this album is a good fun record – much the same vibe as was intended with Yeah!, but at the end of the day also I think this album lacks a true direction.
The style is varied, but I don't think the album goes far enough in any one direction, it just hovers in between. Take a look at the first three tracks - you have Slang, Euphoria and Yeah! all represented. It sends a confusing message to fans.
In the past when the band has experimented, it has alienated some fans and caused considerable debate, yet those two record where experimentation was most obvious (Slang and X) remain strong favorites to many and to this day hold up as well as anything else in the band's catalogue. Personally speaking I'll play Slang and X over Euphoria and Adrenalize any day of the week.
X was heavily criticized by some for being too soft, but you have to give immense credit to the band for being so focused on that recording and the songs within. It remains a travesty that a larger section of the public weren't made aware of that album.
Even on Yeah! – as much as I dislike the majority of the record – the band was at least focused on a set direction. I don't get that same feeling here.
Track By Track:
It's always best to kick off any album with a little gusto and Go does just that. This heavy rocker has an almost industrial feel to it at times, a modern vibe that throws the listener back to the days of Slang, complete with loops and production effects that give this track the feel of Rocket for the 21st Century.
Nine Lives is the most openly commercial Def Leppard sounding track on the whole album and therefore an obvious choice as lead single. It could easy fit on Euphoria and is the song that best represents the band's classic sound.
The use of Tim McGraw in the mix doesn't bother me at all – his role is minimal. I do feel sorry for the guys being accused of following Bon Jovi, when this idea was probably hatched way before JBJ headed to Nashville. It's just that the wheels move slowly in the DL camp.
C'Mon C'Mon is about as simple as any song gets. This is straight out of the Yeah! songbook, with the band following that album's 70s rock tribute, with an original of their own. A pounding beat and a simple rabble raising chorus should see this as an easy fit in the band's live set. It's a mood song…sometimes I'm in the mood for it, sometimes not.
Love is the album's only ballad and that I think is a good move. And credit to the band, for their ballads have managed to stand out as something different each time. Each record Bon Jovi releases you get the same couple of ballads you have heard before and simply don't need again, but both this song and Long Long Way To Go stand out as very original ballads.
Now Love is original in the sense that Def Leppard haven't recorded a ballad like this before, but not quite so original in that the sound and influences mirrors that of band favourite's Queen – another act the guys respect immensely and another sign that Songs From The Sparkle Lounge continues to mirror the influences of the Yeah! record.
I like the overblown mid-song passage and I like the guitar solo and I especially like Joe Elliott's vocal here. He makes this song work. But this song typifies the overall feel of this album - there could have been more. I would have taken artistic license and gone right over the top with this song and blown it out past 7 or 8 minutes.
Tomorrow continues the loose, raw and glam-ish vibe. This happy go lucky pop rocker has that distinct Def Leppard sound, yet with poppier influences and a sound that mixes Euphoria, X and Yeah!
Same too with Cruise Control – another very 70s sounding rocker that to me mixes the modern rock sound of Slang with X during the verse, then converts to Yeah! style during the chorus. The chorus is fairly restrained, but a melodic verse and additional bridge add weight to the song, but at the end of the day – it's not memorable enough for me.
Hallucinate sounds promising to start, with a nice hard edge riff kicking things off. Then it's back to the raw, stripped back style of production. This sounds like a rougher, rawer version of a song that could have been included on X, had it been further polished up.
It's a likable song, and features another nice guitar solo in there, but perhaps is a little underdone.
Only The Good Die Young is an interesting song. I like the Elliott vocal that kicks off the verse – a nice hook and lyrically it sounds like a carry on from the same subject that influenced Photograph all those years ago. A happy sounding mid-tempo pop/rocker with a strong, but simple chorus and more traditional DL sound.
Bad Actress will surely be the most talked about rocker of this whole album – completely infectious and hard not to love. Again, it is very stripped back in comparison with past albums and another blatant "tribute" to the glam rock acts of the 70s. Hard not to love this one though, with the tempo sweeping you up and dragging you along for the ride.
Dodgy lyrics aside, it's a lot of fun.
Come Undone is a solid enough rock track, but at the end of the day it doesn't do a lot for me personally. I'm not feeling the chorus and it just seems to be lacking direction.
Gotta Let It Go is much better. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, even if this time they did borrow from Bon Jovi (the Have A Nice Day riff anyone?)
I like the modern influence and I like the added aggression of the song. Something that is missing from the rest of the album – true attitude!
Songs From The Sparkle Lounge does sparkle at times, but overall it lacks the spark and direction seen on previous Def Leppard albums. It is a bit of fun to listen to, but I don't see a serious depth to the songwriting. The record is quite likeable, but I truly exepect opinions to be quite varied in both negative and positive directions.
I thought it may have been wise for the band to do something akin to what Whitesnake have done, and that is concentrate on appealing to their core audience and deliver an album based on days past. Maybe the band doesn't want to listen to calls for Pyromania 2 or Hysteria 2, but those calls remain and they won't go away.
This album is just a little too varied in direction, but the bulk of the songs sound almost like a reaction against the longer, polished and more intense X record. Short, simple and instantly catchy are all fair comments, but I like my Def Leppard music to have more depth and take time to get to know it. I played X for months, even more so than Euphoria, but this album I know off by heart already and I think I'll be ready to move on from it within weeks.
Still a respectable score, but this ranks behind most other DL albums for me. It is far superior to Yeah! though...and it is nice to hear new material at last, but I did expect more from one of the icons of the industry. And I hate to imagine when we might all hear the next studio album from the band...
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