Sound — 7
Def Leppard haven't shied away from taking risks musically over the past two decades, which led to a fair amount of controversy aimed towards a group once widely recognized as one of the leaders in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Releases such as the criminally ignored 1996 effort "Slang" demonstrated a dive into alternative metal territory, whereas 2002's "X" and 2008's "Songs From the Sparkle Lounge" featured more commercial ventures more focused towards pop rock and even a collaboration with country music vocalist Tim McGraw; needless to say, such efforts only captured the interest of a handful of dedicated Leppard advocates, let alone those rock listeners who only recognized the band for the radio staples off of "Hysteria" and "Pyromania." After waiting seven years between releasing a new album - time spent heavily on the touring market, might I note - Def Leppard have returned with a self-titled record which has moments on par with the expectations of both diehard and casual headbangers alike.
The opening track "Let's Go" has served as a refreshing introduction during Leppard's live performances and does enforce an enhanced impact on the guitar work of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, which is perhaps the most formidable found on a new Def Leppard album since "Hysteria." The lyrics aren't groundbreaking in the least, yet the comfort of aggressive distortion and those distinctive group vocal harmonies is enough to propell the record from the starting gate. "Dangerous" and "Invincible" feed upon that formula by invoking slight references to previous selections in the Def Leppard catalog, yet retain enough fresh elements to avoid being called a complete rehash. "Man Enough" incorporates a vintage 1970s blues rock groove with modern production qualities, and "We Belong" features lead vocals from each member of the lineup at one point or another, proving that there was a certain amount of direction and focus behind this self-titled installment.
Such selections as "Broke 'n' Brokenhearted" and "All Time High" have a strong "High 'n' Dry" character that hasn't been embraced in decades, whereas "Battle of My Own" is an upbeat acoustic rocker that builds upon the success of "Two Steps Behind" with slightly more energy. "Forever Young" is arguably the album's weakest moment because of it's chorus alone, which is eerily similar to that of Alphaville's song of the same name. "Last Dance" sets the vibe back even further towards the aforementioned "Two Steps Behind" through moderate percussion and mainman Joe Elliott's lighthearted lower vocal range, just as the album reaches one of it's clear highlights: "Wings of an Angel." If there was a song more fitting to hit airtime behind "Dangerous," it's this number. The gradual buildup of rhythm guitar and soaring vocal harmonies before reaching a climactic and melodic refrain is pure 1980s glam metal bliss, which couldn't sound more like a "Hysteria" outtake unless Elliott mustered up a few of those manic primal screams which have long been worn down through rigorous touring.
Lyrics — 8
Joe Elliott's original range is largely present over the course of Def Leppard's self-titled studio album. As previously mentioned, long gone are the soaring yells that highlighted "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and "Comin' Under Fire," yet Elliott is still able to channel his lower and middle register fruitfully throughout. After countless years of persistent time spent out on the road and singing two hour sets, it's surprising that Elliott hasn't lost all of that same charm and energy, yet it plays out in the favor of Def Leppard here.
Overall Impression — 8
Def Leppard weren't necessarily expected to go into the studio and craft such a bold return to form with their self-titled album, however this is the album that many longtime listeners were hoping would fall from the rafters at the some point in the future. The guitar playing is back at the forefront, as is the dedication to hard rock and attention to vocal hooks and group harmonies. For dedicated fans of Def Leppard, their self-titled album is a frequently rewarding listen that assures there's still plenty of life left in this veteran unit.