I came of age in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. You’ll have to forgive me for having a soft spot for some of the ‘hair’ bands of the 1980s. I happen to think that every era has its innovators and its imitators. For every band like Van Halen and Guns ‘n’ Roses, there were a hundred shitty hair bands that got a record contract from a major label for sounding or looking kind of similar (Warrant, Mr. Big, Skid Row, Poison). Same deal in the 1990s. For every Nirvana, there were a hundred terrible bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains and Blind Melon. As soon as any “new sound” captures the public’s attention, the lazy A&R pricks at the record companies shamelessly sign anyone who sounds even remotely like the breakthrough artist. This, despite the fact that chasing derivatives is a race to the bottom. That’s just how the industry rolls. It’s been like that since the 1950s, if not longer. So be it.
I personally think that Def Leppard get the short end of the stick when looking back at the 1980s. Sure, they were formulaic. Sure, you could take their songs and interchange them with Shania Twain’s songs of the 1990s – just tweak the twanginess of the guitars and maybe splash on some fiddle here & there. But that’s the genius of Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. He knew what he was doing behind the mixing desk and with the compositions. He knew what worked in a pop music context and what didn’t work. This should not be ridiculed.
Recently, I picked up a copy of the Rock of Ages greatest hits album from The Lep. It was $10 for two CDs at HMV, so what the hell. The last Def Leppard album I had bought was probably Adrenalize, on cassette, at an A&A music store in Winnipeg shortly after its release (admittedly, it kind of sucks). It was a walk down memory lane to hear Rock of Ages with fresh ears after twenty years of indie rock immersion. It’s definitely not cool to like The Lep today, but as popular rockers go, you could do a lot worse. Even though I went to university in the 1990s, I could never wrap my head around Kurt Cobain’s or Layne Staley’s miserable songs about shooting heroin and hating modern life. Melodies and rhythms were what caught my ear, and so the 1980s holdovers (Def Leppard et al) were what I often listened to, at least until the rise of Britpop in the mid-1990s.
I think my favourite song on Rock of Ages is “Promises”. It’s one of the singles from 1999’s Euphoria LP, which sold approximately 17 copies worldwide. I really don’t remember this song making any kind of impact on rock radio at the time. I’m guessing radio was too busy playing Bush and Creed and Limp Bizkit songs to take notice of Sheffield’s finest songsmiths. But “Promises” is awesome. All the classic Def Leppard calling cards are present & accounted for. Walls of heavily processed guitars. Layer after layer of double-tracked vocals. A killer melody and hooks galore. State-of-the-art production values, yet still nodding to the 1980s. At the end of the day, it’s basically sunshine captured on tape. I don’t even know what the lyric is about. It’s probably your standard non-specific boy meets girl crap. Who cares – it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking to Def Leppard for lyrical brilliance, you’re probably the kind of person that looks to Dr. Phil for medical help or Kim Kardashian for marital advice. The music is just 100% fun. The harmony guitar that comes in on the choruses sounds sublime. It’s the sound of pure, unadulterated joy.
This is worth checking out, unless you’re prone to seizures or have a serious cheese allergy:
I think they spent the proceeds from all seventeen copies of Euphoria to make this video, but whatever.
So there, I admit it. Despite all my modern rock posturing and my holier-than-thou indie rock credentials I still have a soft spot for 15-years-past-their-prime Def Leppard. What can I say, it rocks the box for blocks and blocks.