I remember back to the summer of 1987 when Def Leppard released their long awaited follow-up to Pyromania, the long delayed Hysteria. Friday Night Videos was cranking out the video for "Women" weekly, but it did not grab me in the least bit. I was too young to know about Pyromania, so for me, there was zero interest in buying this album. A few months later my neighbor had the cassette so I dubbed it so I could have a copy. I listened to the four songs. I loved "Animal" but the next one, "Love Bites" was too protracted and sappy for me, so I stopped the cassette before I could get to the fifth track on the album.
Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on
Livin' like a lover with a radar phone
Lookin' like a tramp, like a video vamp
Demolition woman, can I be your man?
-"Pour Some Sugar On Me"
About a month later, I was watching The Top of the Pops. Some of you may remember that there was a US version of the popular UK show on Friday night's for a few years in the late 80's. They said that Def Leppard would be performing and I remember finding it odd because they had just been on the month before performing "Animal". When it came time for them to perform, they said that it would be a performance from the UK for their new single over there called "Pour Some Sugar On Me". I sat there and watched the song in amazement as I thought it was luminous. I instantaneously grabbed my dubbed cassette and listened to it non-stop for the next few weeks. I eventually bought Hysteria a few weeks later on cassette and about 18 months later when I got my first cd player, it was one of the first cd's I bought. I was still in grade school at the time, and remember telling a bunch of my classmates about the song "Sugar". They all looked at me with glossed over eyes. I told them what a great album Hysteria was only to be shot down in flames. Well, needless to say, over the summer, "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and it's brilliant video (directed by live video maestro Wayne Isham) ruled the radio and MTV airwaves. I came back to school the following August and everyone had the album. Needless to say this was not the first time my brilliant insight was overlooked initially.
For the better part of the last decade, almost any band that came out in the 1980's has faced an uphill campaign in trying to sustain their audience. Some have been able to do it very lucratively (U2, Bon Jovi) and others not as well (just about every other hair band whose glorious hair has vanished). Bands from the 1980's are at the end of more jokes than just about any other type of music from any other era, however, what is overlooked, is that many of them, still create amazing music today. The best example of this lies in a British rock band formed twenty-five years ago called Def Leppard. They have always been one of the most unfailing bands in rock and one of the few bands that has without fail received excellent reviews. A large part of this may have to do with Pyromania. It was released way before the onslaught of hair bands that erupted on MTV in the late 80's. It was even included in Rolling Stones Top 100 Albums of the 80's. In truth, Def Leppard is not really a hair band but more of a modern day Queen with heavier layered guitars.
I really believed this band was on the road to reclaiming their 80's glory a few years back with the release of Euphoria, a return to form for the band. The album sounded like all of their best recordings from the 80's, with a 21st Century sound. I love this album to pieces and it can stand aside Hysteria, hit singles or not. It's a stunning album well crafted and executed. However, while the album went on to sell 600,000 copies, it did not spark the ignition lights the way the band had hoped. So they go back to the drawing boards and come up with their tenth album X, a pop album, full of potential hit singles that has gone on to sell about half of what Euphoria did.
So why is this melodic band struggling to sell records? The climate does play into it, however, I feel that this band has not promoted these records enough. Each time I mention that Def Leppard has put out a new album to someone, their eyes and ears perk up and they look at me and say, "They did?" You can blame it on record company politics, however, whenever Bon Jovi has a new album out, it is known because they plaster their faces all over the tube on any TV show that will take them. I can't think of a single TV show that the Sheffield boys have appeared on in the last half decade here in America, and to add insult to injury, both of their previous albums have come out in the summer, but that have opted to wait six to nine months to go out and tour behind the album...a little too late if you ask me.
Eight months after the release of X, Def Leppard rode into Chicago to a near sold out crowd at the UIC Pavilion. I was actually floored that they were able to sell 11,000+ seats for a show that had zero promotion. It's a testament to their strength as a live act and to their music. A little known fact is that their 1995 Greatest Hits collection, Vault, sells between five and ten thousand copies every week! Those are stunning numbers and just show that there is still an audience for their music. While these shows may not be as long as other outings, the band has gone for a retro feel without dating themselves. Shows prior to Chicago have been starting out with five songs from their 1981 album, High'n Dry. That is almost unheard of today. If any album is going to get five songs performed from it, it will most likely be a new album and not a cult fans album that is more than two decades old. Not every act is so willing to go so far back into their catalog and revisit songs from early in their career. For Chicago, the show opened with a heavy and rocking, "Let It Go" from this cult album. The band has mostly played material from Pyromania onwards since 1987 and not gone this far back in its catalog in a long time. "Rock Rock Till You Drop" and "Make Love Like A Man" followed and were then capped with two more High 'n Dry tracks, "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" and the Steve Clark penned "Switch 625". The irony is that these songs still sound fresh today, some music, whether you love it or hate it is timeless. This is the proper time for Def Leppard to reclaim their past, and they have done so on this tour, by embracing these songs which have been unperformed for the better part of two decades.
At this point, they have done their job of warming the crowd up and proceed to move forward with some new songs mixed in with some hits. X was represented by "Four Letter Word", "Now", "You're So Beautiful" and "Long Way To Go" which should have been a huge hit for them, only if their record company had not given up on the record. X is not Def Leppards best album, but there is not an unpleasant track on the entire disc. It's one of those purely pop-rock records that may not be as complex as Slang or Hysteria but is every bit as enjoyable. I believe that if fans were to pick this album up, they would be surprised and delighted to get an album full of so many potential radio hits. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone like Avril Lavinge took a few of these songs and re-recorded them for her next album, that's how accessible they are, it's just a shame that because of the band's profile and radio's and MTV's rule for not playing any act overt the age of 40 has to come into it. Many people write off older acts as no longer being relevant, which is only true from the dog eat dog world of the record business. The band was in a great mood as they moved across the stage and even through in the rarely performed "Slang" from 1996. Slang is a shadowy, brooding and morose album that few have heard. It was nice to see them give props to a well-conceived album that many people have forgotten about. That album, in many ways, was their first failure. The album barely went gold, however, they pushed themselves as songwriters and managed to create a completely original sound for them. I remember buying it back in '96 and feeling that it was good, but it would take me a while to get into. The music coming out from many of my favorite acts of this time were creating "think piece" albums. U2 did this with Passengers and Pop, Springsteen had Ghost of Tom Joad, Pearl Jam pushed boundaries with No Code and Def Leppard redefined their sound with "Slang". Another highlight of the show was "Promises", which should have been their comeback track. I expected this song to do for Def Leppard what "It's My Life" did for Bon Jovi. It's a sure-fire monstrous radio hit with the sound of all the best stuff from Hysteria, however, it did not quite catch on as well as they had hoped. In fact, what surprises me, is that Def Leppards last few albums, track for track are essentially better than the last few Bon Jovi albums, however, they have been unable to come up with that colossal single like the boys from Jersey have been able to do.
What most people came out to see Def Leppard do is perform those big hits found on Vault and there were plenty of them in the last hour. They performed all seven singles from Hysteria and many of the paramount tracks from their other albums. Sure, Joe Elliott cannot hit those high notes like he used to, but he still knows how to work the stage and crowd. This current incarnation of Def Leppard has been together for 11 years, the longest the band has ever gone without a change. It shows in their performance as they ran through the two-hour set with ease and confidence.
The last hour, including six songs off of Hysteria, is where the crowd reached hysterical proportions...how could you not as they unleashed one major hit after another? One thing that no one has ever given Def Leppard enough credit for is their musicianship. On "Hysteria" the dueling guitars of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell were a sight to see as their dueted on their respective axes. The song has always been a highlight of their live performances as the melancholy track is performed to perfection and is better than it is on record. Just because the band has aged does not mean they cannot continue to make great rock music and they are still quite a sight to see live.
Def Leppard is more than just a nostalgia act, they still have a lot to offer the rock world and are still first-rate musicians making skillful and entertaining music that is still relevant. However, they need to take a hold of their careers and realize they need to promote records right when they come out and not further on up the road. If they took a more aggressive approach to promoting their records, then they would still be able to achieve platinum success and sell out arenas on a recurring basis. Carpe Diem.
The razzle, dazzle and hysterical teen girls are no longer fixtures at Def Leppard shows...but they still have the peaches, the cream and the oomph to show why they should not be coupled with other hair bands but as a renowned rock band who lets it go every time they hit that stage. Sugar me sweet...they still have the goods and should tear it down and let the rest of the world know they're still adrenalized and ready rock us all for ages to come.