Chicago, IL - Media Reviews
Media Review - Def Leppard's widespread appeal loud and clear By Kevin McKeough
A huge white X slashed across a black backdrop was visible all the way from the rear of the UIC Pavilion Friday night. The image advertised the Roman numeral title of Def Leppard's 10th studio record, released last summer, but it also unintentionally suggested a key reason for the British pop-metal band's spectacular '80s success and surprisingly enduring appeal today.
Hard rock and heavy metal usually is a question of Y, as in the Y chromosome that determines male gender and produces most of the genres' headbanging fans, but the X chromosome is common to both sexes.
Def Leppard mixed guy-leaning metal with female-friendly pop throughout their performance, and the combination's impact was easy to see: Women were nearly equal in number to men in the near-capacity crowd, and by all observations were more enthusiastic.
The assistance of Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync songwriter/producer Max Martin on "X" may be an embarrassment to metalheads everywhere, but in its own way, Def Leppard once was a boy band, too.
When they were big-haired twentysomethings in the 1980s, combined sales of their records "Pyromania" and "Hysteria" totaled in the tens of millions and paved the way for such teased-follicle pop-metal acts as Bon Jovi and Poison.
Def Leppard deserves better than to be judged among such company, though, because its songs were always craftier, thanks immensely to producer Mutt Lange. Lange now devotes his time to achieving the same sort of chart-topping results for his wife, Shania Twain, but the band's tight performance kept the sound he helped fashion sharp and forceful.
Bare-chested guitarist Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell - who replaced founding guitarist Steve Clark after his fatal drug overdose in the early 1990s - mixed circular pop riffs and shimmering flourishes amid the crunching power chords. Rick Allen, whose adaptation to the loss of an arm in a 1985 auto accident remains inspirational, made his customized electronic drum kit rustle and roll. Coupled with Rick Savage's thudding bass lines, the beats bounced rather than pummeled.
Def Leppard's masterstroke was giving nearly every song a simple, shout-along chorus (all together now: "pour some sugar on meeeeee") that was particularly effective at tapping into female fans' inner cheerleaders. Cheesy? Formulaic? Bombastic? Even, heaven forbid, unfashionable? Yes, Def Leppard was all these things at times, and it made a misguided attempt to update its sound with the lame new power ballad 'Now.'
Still, the obvious fun the band had as they tore through a barrage of blockbuster hits near show's end - including 'Animal,' 'Armageddon It,' 'Pour Some Sugar On Me,' 'Rock of Ages' - made it easy to get swept up in the sound of X and Y coming together in more ways than one.
By Chicago Tribune 2003.
Media Review - The Hysteria Remains The Same By Anthony Kuzminski
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 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.
By Unrated Magazine 2003.
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