Songs From the Sparkle Lounge by Def Leppard
Release date : April 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
In mid December 2006, Billboard.com revealed the fact that Def Leppard would begin recording a tenth studio full length in January 2007 at frontman Joe Elliot's Dublin, Ireland home and studio, where the album was recorded during month long stints. At that time, five to six compositions had been penned. In March, the working title of the album was revealed to be Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, a title the group settled upon. The name refers to a room the group maintained backstage during its 2006 tour dates, where the members would convene with co-producer and live sound technician Ronan McHugh to work upon, and cut, ideas. From late June to early October, Def Leppard toured North America as part of the Downstage Thrust Tour package alongside Styx and Foreigner.
In mid January 2008, a tentative mid March issue date was set in support of the album. During early February, however, the release date was pushed back several weeks. By early March, the album's artwork had been revealed. From late March to late April, Def Leppard toured North America with Styx and Reo Speedwagon. Inaugural single “Nine Lives” exhibits the group in collaboration with Country singer Tim McGraw. Originally, McGraw had joined Def Leppard onstage during a 2006 Hollywood Bowl encore performance to guest upon “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. Both stayed in touch, and whilst penning “Nine Lives”, the outfit thought that McGraw should donate guest vocals. Guitarist Phil Collen flew to Nashville, Tennessee to play the track for McGraw, and McGraw cut his parts in a Nashville studio shortly thereafter. Prior to its release, the track was featured in a special opening segment filmed for NBA games airing via ABC. The opening would be featured during ABC game broadcasts throughout the 2008 season, and during both ABC and ESPN broadcasts during the playoffs. On March 9th, the video debuted as the lead-in to an NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns. Also, a music video was issued in support of the track. In support of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 console game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, a three-song track pack featuring “Nine Lives”, as well as live renditions of “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages”, was made available for purchase.
Following the issue of 2002's X, most Def Leppard fanatics resigned themselves to the fact that this group would never be the same again. Gone were the days which spawned rocking albums such as 1981's High 'n' Dry and 1983's Pyromania, or huge balladry like 1987's Hysteria and 1992's Adrenalize. During 2005 however, the group resurfaced upon mainstream music's radar once again via a highly energetic, well produced collection of cover interpretations entitled Yeah!. Inspired by Yeah!'s unexpected success, Def Leppard returned to the studio to cut Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. A smooth and sometimes surprising Pop Rock full length, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge will certainly attract the ears of potential new fanatics, and will, mildly at least, satisfy old fanatics.
Mostly, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge stumbles upon an appropriate formula. Albeit opposite ends of the spectrum, both 1999's Euphoria and 2002's X illustrate an outfit striving much too difficultly to recreate past glories. In penning this 2008 record however, it seems Def Leppard is finally comfortable with their strengths as aging Rock icons. The group doesn't attempt to remake the hugely successful Hysteria, but just execute semi-Rockin' mid tempo Pop oriented tunes, and execute those tunes extremely well.
Amongst Songs From the Sparkle Lounge's tracks, a few highlights exist. Of these, the first of note happens to be lead single “Nine Lives”. Co-written and performed alongside Country music superstar Tim McGraw, the track almost perfects Def Leppard's even keeled style, yet allows the listener to hear McGraw in a slightly differing light. CMT Crossroads, anyone? “Nine Lives” is a track which would likely make or break Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, though the number certainly cements the album's status. Def Leppard actually draw McGraw into their sphere, as opposed to vice versa. Straightforward Rockers, “Only the Good Die Young” and “Go” boast enough gentleness so as not to alienate those troubled by the heavy guitar crunch prevalent within the group's more popular material. “C’Mon C’Mon” revisits the act’s seventies Glam Rock beginnings, and would have found an appropriate home upon Yeah! (despite the fact that “C’Mon C’Mon” is an original composition). A genuine hearted ballad, “Love” is very much brought to life by the emotional voice of lead singer Joe Elliot. The last several times this reviewer witnessed the group in life performance, Elliot wasn't at his greatest. For that reason, it's pleasantly surprising to hear the Joe Elliot this reviewer remembers particularly deliver upon this specific track.
Generally speaking, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge isn't Def Leppard's greatest full length. However, this is unquestionably the greatest record the group has cut in the last fifteen years, and listeners couldn't ask for much more than this. Having sold in excess of sixty five million albums worldwide, Def Leppard is a group which doesn't have to take chances, or venture towards fresh musical territory, yet they actually do so. A diverse collection, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge succeeds by simply being itself. Seemingly comfortable, Def Leppard prove ready to combat an additional twenty years, a day many fanatics thought would never arrive.