New Def Leppard albums will always be stacked up against Hysteria, the last and most successful album of their classic era. Every subsequent release reliably trotted out as “their best since Hysteria“. But it’s been 28 years since that album and Def Leppard’s career has been hit-and-miss ever since. Without the hard-edged chemistry they enjoyed with the late Steve Clark as their guitarist they’ve been unable to satisfactorily turn the clock back to their classic era and any attempt to progress and achieve a crossover success by introducing contemporary influences has had mixed results and a mixed reception. Their new self-titled album finds them employing various approaches taken from throughout their long career and, like that career, it’s diverse and patchy.
Let’s Go and Dangerous kick the album off in an enjoyably classic Lep vein but they’re basically reheats of Pour Some Sugar on Me and Photograph respectively. Neither possessing the fresh spark or originality of the source material. Then the band pay homage to best-forgotten eras of their career too. Man Enough reworks Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust in such an un-sexy way that it brings to mind the horror of Euphoria‘s All Night. And even their career-nadir X is represented by the insipid ballad We Belong and the boy-band pish of Energized. The latter is quite possibly the worst song of their entire career.
But anyone loyal enough to stick out the diminishing returns of the album’s first half is rewarded as the album improves in its second half. All Time High and Broke N’ Brokenhearted prove that the band’s dumb-but-fun rock is still not out of the question. But it’s the more serious, moody tracks that are the real winners here. Wings of an Angel is an excellent slice of layered drama. Easily the best song on Def Leppard. And there’s a welcome return to the adventurous feel of the Slang era too with the excellent, moreish Forever Young and the “Lep do Zep” of Battle of my Own.
Sadly, the album’s indian summer isn’t enough to undo the, often embarrassingly bad, first half. With tracks three to seven removed you’d have the makings of a decent Def Leppard album here. But even then, it would still just be solid. There’s nothing here that the band, or other bands, haven’t done before and better. There’s no shame in a classic act relying on past glories but to do so with so little fire and edge is unforgivable. Disappointing.