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Def Leppard "Yeah!"

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, June 26, 2006 @ 11:03 AM

On Mercury/Universal

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“We were nothing to do with a new wave. Never were. So don’t call us heavy metal. We always had one foot in pop.” Joe Elliot

Call it hard rock if you want, and feel free to split hairs about what Def Leppard used to be when they released On Through The Night and High ‘N’ Dry, but the fact remains that once upon a time, this band created a record--Pyromania--that may have very well been the best damn record ever released in the 80’s--I’m not kidding. Each song had a definite hook combined with tons of emotion accompanied by a memorable, anthemic chorus. Sadly enough, tunes like “Too Late For Love”, “Comin’ Under Fire” and “Foolin’” are light years removed from the “adult contemporary” material the band has been releasing ever since. It is precisely because these guys were once so fuckin’ amazing that the Bon Jovification of Leppard on VH-1 has been so difficult to watch. Joe Elliot has even went so far as to characterize his recent lyrical stylings in the press as “nursery rhymes for adults.” Wow, hey Joe, I‘ve got one too--“There once was a mom from Nantucket who grabbed a long broomstick and then---” Whatever. I don’t expect anyone to stay twenty years old forever, but…does rock and roll invariably have to end up here? Does it have to end up with a covers album? Does it have to end up with Shaun Cassidy hairdos and leather pants? Is it that important for Def Leppard to release an album championing songs that are ostensibly not metal in yet another attempt to distance oneself from a genre that they were so closely associated with? More importantly, is said record even worth listening to?

Yeah! kicks off with a rendition of T Rex’s classic “20th Century Boy“, and as they do with many of the selections here, Joe and the boys stay pretty true to the original. In doing so, they managed to avoid making me sick like Power Station did when they bastardized Marc Bolan’s “Bang A Gong” in the 80’s. You remember those guys from Live Aid--the band consisted of Robert Palmer, some femme boys from Duran Duran, and….a whole lot of suck. For me, “Rock On”, the second track, is one of the most questionable selections here--maybe I just have this natural aversion to tunes that rhyme “movie screen” with “Jimmy Dean”. More likely it has to do with that ass pumpkin-old school soap opera star Michael Damian who not only covered this song once upon a time but who also had the additional poor judgment to cast the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman) in the video. If you ever want a recipe for a helluva an evening--invite the two Coreys and Michael Damian over to the ol’ trailer with a half pound of coke and a case of beer and hear them babble all night long about what “could have been.“ That being said, Def Leppard’s rendition ALMOST made me forget about that his--almost. The third offering, Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” is next and is a high energy, exciting romp through a solid rock classic. Fun Fact: Blondie sort of looks like a morph between Joe Elliot and Rick Savage these days--especially when the boys don that eye makeup of theirs. Boy howdy! I’m getting’ hot just thinking’ bout it. Possibly the best song in this collection though is Lep’s version of “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks. It is great--it’s melodic and highly listenable and if the band kicked it out live, I certainly wouldn’t feel cheated.

There is also the obligatory song from The Sweet entitled “Hell Raiser” which features Taylor Hawkins from The Darkness. With his band’s fame currently clocking in at 15:01, my guess would be that the high pitched warbler will also be available for many many guest appearances in the future as well--maybe Danger Danger is looking for a touring vocalist. Although Yeah! doesn’t have too many clunkers on it, the next tune “10538 Overture” just doesn’t work in the way many of the other selections do which is too bad because ELO’s Jeff Lynne wrote a ton of memorable songs that still stand out decades later. I’m not saying that Leppard needed to do “Don’t Bring Me Down” or something equally as obvious, but the inclusion of “Overture” makes it appear as if they outguessed themselves on this number. Really, the only mediocre-weak tracks on this record would be the aforementioned ELO tribute, “Street Life” from Roxy Music and “Drive In Saturday” first recorded by David Bowie. It isn’t that any of these songs suck as bad as Rosie O’donnell playing a retard on a bus, but…in the end, they are about as memorable as the name of that guidance counselor you once had in high school. (Speaking of Rosie--is there some kind of special name for fat chicks with short arms? Do you have to have a penguin fetish to bang one of them? I often wonder if anyone who has had sex with Rosie since the release of that movie My Sister Rides The Short Bus or whatever has insisted she stay in character throughout the duration of the intercourse.)

Despite sad allusions to sex with arctic animals, Yeah! does conclude with a final flurry which begins with “Little Bit Of Love” from Free--a song that manages to prove Phil’s assertion that “these songs were so deeply etched into our DNA that we had to keep them as close to the original as we could.” It definitely works here, so change simply for the sake of change would be somewhat counterproductive. Mott The Hoople’s “The Golden Age of Rock and Roll” precedes the other contender for best song on the disc which is “No Matter What” from Badfinger which is a remix of the version that Def Leppard originally did for the Rock of Ages anthology. “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” by John Kongos on track twelve sets the stage here for Lep’s performance of the Thin Lizzy standard “Don’t Believe A Word.” The liner notes state that Vivian is such a Phil Lynott fan that he would have let Collen do all the other solos on this record if he could have just performed this one--it didn’t turn out to be necessary, of course, but it is undeniable that Lynott was one of the most influential musicians of the era. When Yeah! finally concludes with Phil Collen doing his best Rod Stewart impersonation on “Stay With Me”, the project somehow seems entirely complete and satisfying.

It’s more than a little risky for a group to release a record entirely comprised of covers--I mean, even rock and roll titans such as Styx and Toto each tried their hand at one with varying results. As much as any given metal fan may appreciate Rush, only the most staunch supporters of the band wouldn’t be able to admit that Feedback was about as invigorating as watching four geriatrics quilt a blanket. Some may view Def Leppard’s faithful renditions of these fourteen selections as being exemplary of a lack of imagination, but anyone who takes the time to listen to this release will have to be impressed by the way it sounds. The production is top notch, and Elliot’s vocals certainly hold up their end of the bargain here as well. Sure, in order to take this record for what it is, a listener may have to check all of their preconceptions about what this band once was at the door, but in the end, it’s undoubtedly worth it. It’s entirely possible to throw this disc in the stereo, turn up the volume and just enjoy it for what it is--an energetic disc written by a band who once upon a time were fans of British pop music before it was anything else. The liner notes from this release are also stellar and do an excellent job explaining where the band was coming from in selecting each track. Although I totally disagree with the way Def Leppard tends to portray its legacy and place within the new wave of British heavy metal--they say they didn’t have one--I still have to admit that it would be pretty hard to find a more satisfying disc to listen to this summer. Besides, hell--think about it--if Lep can claim they were never metal and release a record consisting entirely of British pop music, maybe Duran Duran can come along in a year or two and claim they were never pop and turn around and release a covers record consisting entirely of heavy metal songs---yeah, I’d listen to that one too.

*** 1/2

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