Def Leppard finds that 'X' marks the spot
By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
On the surface, Def Leppard's recently released CD, "X," looks like a carefully orchestrated attempt to revive the career of a band whose fortunes have faded sharply since the days when albums like "Pyro-mania" and "Hysteria" were racking up sales in the tens of millions.
On one hand, the song "Unbelievable" finds Def Leppard teaming with songwriters Andreas Carlsson, Per Aldeheim and Max Martin — the tunesmiths who helped bring Bon Jovi back to that band's platinum-selling ways with the hit "It's My Life" from the 2000 CD, "Crush," and have written multiple tracks for teen stars Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
Def Leppard also joined forces on three tracks with Marti Frederiksen, another hit-making songwriter who became Aero-smith's primary songwriting partner on that band's most recent studio release, "Just Push Play."
Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen is well aware that such collaborations seem to follow a record company blueprint for crafting a hit album by bringing in so-called song doctors to help create radio-ready tunes. But Collen said the outside involvement on "X" was entirely the band's doing. More importantly, it helped breathe fresh life into the creative process for Def Leppard, a group that celebrates its 25th year as a band with the "X" CD.
"It wasn't the record company's idea. It was my idea. I wanted to do that on the 'Euphoria' album, use multiple producers," Collen said, mentioning Def Lep-pard's previous studio effort. "And I think it was essential that we used new blood. I think it was great ...''
For the band, which was formed a quarter century ago in Sheffield, England, the past decade has been a period of adjustment after triumphant '80s albums "Pyro-mania" and "Hysteria" sold more than 20 million copies combined — despite a pair of major tragedies, the death of original guitarist Steve Clark from a drug overdose and an accident that cost drummer Rick Allen one of his arms.
In 1996, Def Leppard, whose current lineup includes Collen, singer Joe Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, guitarist Vivian Campbell and drummer Allen — who uses a specially equipped kit — tried to adapt to grunge with the stripped down CD "Slang." Fans of their patented pop metal sound rebelled, so the group reverted to its classic sound on 1999's "Euphoria."
Again, that album stiffed.
While Collen remains a fan of the "Slang" CD, he admits that Def Leppard missed the mark with "Euphoria."
"I think the 'Euphoria' album, looking back on it, was very clinical in its ap-proach," Collen said. "We tried to make a pastiche of our career basically. We tried to make an album that sounded like (the group's greatest hits CD) 'Vault,' that had some 'High 'N' Dry,' some 'Pyromania' and some 'Adrenalize' in there, like a mixture of (the three CDs)."
For "X," Collen said the band members decided to cast aside any preconceived notions about the Def Leppard sound. One obvious product of that outlook was the collaborations with outside songwriters, which have brought a decidedly different accent to the group's music.
The song written by "Aldeheim, Carlsson and Martin — "Unbelievable" — is the biggest departure. A big-bodied ballad featuring pulsing programmed rhythms, the song sounds like a classic power ballad in the mold of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." The three tracks written with Frederiksen — "Now," "You're So Beautiful" and "Everyday" — rock harder, but also have more of a burnished pop feel than the band's '80s hits.
In fact, it's not until six songs into "X" that the CD yields a classic-sounding Def Leppard track with "Four Letter Word," a punchy rocker with the kind of crunchy guitar sound that helped make tunes like "Photograph," "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Animal" signature songs for the band.
It's also the first of six songs on "X" solely written by the five band members. But Collen said even the band-written songs — which were produced by the band and "Euphoria" co-producer Pete Woodroffe — were influenced by the studio approach of Frederiksen.
"With the 'X' album, we said whatever the song needs," Collen said. "If the song needs a bank of backing vocals and we need to record in a process (with) programmed drums, then go for it. If it needs live drums, great. It still works on the same record, and it did. So that to us was the freedom thing and it (the "X" CD) did come easier because it was a fun process."
Def Leppard plays today — June 5 — at the Family Arena in St. Charles. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show cost $36 and $46.