“Def Leppard is a rock band-not a metal band- that writes catchy songs”-Phil Collen
“A long time ago I made the conscious decision that I’d rather be Marc Bolan than Bob Dylan”-Joe Elliot
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly thirty years since the release of Def Leppard’s debut album ‘On Through The Night’. From their humble beginnings in Sheffield to becoming a world conquering musical force responsible for two of the best selling albums of all time, ‘Pyromania’ and ‘Hysteria’ the band’s story has been thoroughly documented in articles, biographies and even a movie. They have garnered almost every accolade and award available in the music industry and are one of an elite few (along with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, U2 and The Eagles) to have received two Diamond awards for sales in excess of a staggering ten million units. Having survived a career that has seen incredible highs and devastating tragedies; the band-Joe Elliott (vocals), Phil Collen (guitar), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Rick ‘Sav’ Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums), have stuck together, outlasting many of their predecessors and are now back in the spotlight with their highly anticipated new album ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’.
“We’ve stuck it out and made an effort to create new music”-Joe Elliott
Although Sparkle Lounge is the band’s first album of original material in six years they haven’t exactly been resting on their laurels, having released a series of successful compilations (Best of, and Rock of Ages) and also their tribute album ‘Yeah’ a concept that Joe Elliott has harboured since the early eighties, which finally came to fruition in 2006.
Paying homage to the music that inspired the group members in their formative years, it features songs by artists from the 60’s and 70’s including Bowie, The Kinks, David Essex, Roxy Music and Blondie. Not only a labour of love the album also turned out to be another pivotal moment in the bands career, as Collen explained.
“The ‘Yeah’ album was that feeling of us getting excited about music again. It was very symbolic of where we came from and how we got into music. It also influenced the way we did the Sparkle Lounge.”
Elliott agrees: “I’ve got a great affection for the three minute pop song, they influenced me immensely. It was brilliant doing that album. I remember walking into the studio one day thinking ‘it’s a good job I don’t need a shrink’. I was Debbie Harry in morning and Bryan Ferry after dinner. It was easy to do because those songs had been in my head for thirty years.”
In true Leppard tradition ‘Yeah’ went platinum and spawned two hit singles, ‘No Matter What’ (Bad finger) and ‘Rock On’ (David Essex), which marked a personal triumph for Joe. “Having those hit singles is what made the album so poignant for me as some people, especially in the States, will not have heard of these bands before. It also allowed us to be a touring band again.”
Although Leppard have never experienced what could be described as ‘wilderness years’, there was a period in the mid nineties where they almost became victims of a musical sea change. The arrival of grunge virtually decimated the existing rock scene and the band attempted to counter this by recording ‘Slang’ in 1996, which marked a fairly radical change of musical direction. Although successful sales wise, it failed to live up to the expectations set by previous releases.
Collen: “I’ve always felt that we’ve been on target but occasionally our timing has been off. I think if Slang had come out two years after Hysteria it would have been great. But we waited too long poncing around and America had its own punk movement. Nirvana came and it was great as it cleared out all those horrible hair bands, but unfortunately we had been put into that bracket (laughs). It really stung when during that period people would go ‘you suck!’ and if anyone bought our album it would be in a brown paper bag (laughs).”
Even at such a low point Leppard managed to shift several gold and platinum discs worth of ‘brown paper bags’ and by time they released ‘X’ in 2002, the grunge movement had all but faded and the goal posts had shifted again. And there was a new audience looking for some quality rock’n’roll.
Elliott: “All of a sudden the scene changed when Kurt Cobain died. I felt sorry for the 90’s kids because, with the exception of Pearl Jam, all their heroes had fucked off. Suddenly we were getting younger kids to our show wearing Nirvana t-shirts, checking us out. It was when we finished the X tour we had to take it up a notch.”
Now in 2008 Leppard have returned with their most potent album to date. An eclectic selection of material; ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ is an accurate reflection of the group’s current state of mind, wielding a more spontaneous sound inspired by their experiences recording ‘Yeah’.
And the title?
Collen “The Sparkle Lounge is an area that our crew set up for us backstage. Every night they would say ‘boys if you want to rehearse or do anything the Sparkle Lounge is up’. Initially we never went in there but after we’d done Yeah and we were thinking about writing a new album someone said ‘why don’t you rehearse a couple of songs in the Sparkle Lounge’. So we did and it worked a treat.”
Unlike their early albums that were more, structured group efforts created under the tutelage of uber producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, The Sparkle Lounge was a much more relaxed and intuitive project, co-produced by the band and their sound engineer, Ronan McHugh.
Elliott:” We wrote a lot of the songs when we were on tour with Journey and by the time we got to record them, I knew them inside out. With albums like Pyromania and Hysteria there were times that I wrote lyrics in the morning that I was going to record in the afternoon and had to put a lot of effort into learning them. With Sparkle Lounge we were a little more prepared. It was the first time we had written on the road, so it was a whole new ball game for us”.
The first single off the album is actually the first song the band recorded. ‘Nine Lives’ which features an unlikely collaboration between Leppard and top selling US country star Tim McGraw, who along with his equally successful partner, Faith Hill, happens to be a huge fan of the band. The union came about after McGraw joined Leppard onstage at the illustrious Hollywood Bowl for a raucous rendition of ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’.
“Yeah we put on a different hat for that and I’m not talking about a cowboy hat”, joked Elliott, “We’ve had many drunken rock’n'roll promises where bands like Judas Priest and UFO have said ‘we should work together one day’ and the next morning they’ve forgotten they’ve said it. Kudos to Tim McGraw, he said he would love to work with us and he did. He was there when we needed him and I will respect him for that for the rest of my life.”
Described by Collen as a ‘country/rootsy' take on AC/DC doing The Rolling Stones’ Nine Lives is fairly indicative of the diversity that can found on The Sparkle Lounge. This is Leppard's unique yet distinctive take on rock’n’roll in the twenty first century. As Elliott explained: “We’ve covered so many angles that’s there’s something for everybody to get their teeth into. There’s a song by Sav called ‘C’mon, C’mon ‘that is pure Glam Rock. Phil came up with ‘Hallucinate’, which I would say is classic Leppard. I wrote one called ‘Bad Actress’, which must be the fastest song we’ve ever done. ‘Cruise Control’ by Vivian is all about the troubles in the Middle East. All we wanted to do was deliver a bunch of songs that we feel are representative of us in 2008 and hopefully the audience will come along for the ride.”
And what a ride!
By the time you read this Def Leppard will have embarked on a world tour, in support of the album, doing what they do best; delivering loud’n’proud arena sized performances that have kept audiences captivated for the last three decades. In America they will be joined by Styx and REO Speedwagon, and Whitesnake and Black Stone Cherry for the European dates, where demand for the tickets has been phenomenal.
“The fear of splitting up has kept us together”, Elliott admits, “I don’t know what else we could do. We’ve just worked so long, so hard and so often that we don’t know how to stop. Luckily for us I don’t think we actually want to.”