Album Title: Slang
Artist: Def Leppard
Running Time: 46m
Track listing: 1 Truth; 2 Turn to Dust; 3 Slang; 4 All I Want is Everything; 5 Work it Out; 6 Breathe a Sigh; 7 Deliver Me; 8 Gift of Flesh; 9 Blood Runs Cold; 10 Where Does Love Go When it Dies; 11 Pearl of Euphoria
A greatest hits collection in 1995 (“Vault”) helped Def Leppard buy more time before releasing their slightly less-anticipated seventh studio album. The onslaught of grunge music had seen stadium rock acts such as Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Motley Crue lose a lot of their popularity. Althuogh hit singles were still being attained, many of them were ballads – always the easy option for a band struggling to convince a sceptical public.
So it was all change for 1996’s “Slang”. On production duties this time was Pete Woodroffe rather than career-producer, Mutt Lange. Joe had straightened his infamous poodle-perm and, most intriguingly, the band moved on musically from the metal-lite formula that had defined their career thus far. “Slang” was a heavier, darker, industrial-tinged collection of tunes, interspersed with ‘safety’ music that would assure a certain amount of radio airplay.
Those safety tunes are a good place to start. The title track was a raunchy rap-rock number that was every bit as catchy as ‘Lets Get Rocked’ or ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’. ‘Slang with me – I don’t wanna get my hands dirty/slang with me – I just wanna get soakin’ wet’ croaks Elliot in the way that only veteran rockers can. The intermittent guitar and unusual percussion lends to a sound that’s different enough to be interesting, but still recognisably Def Leppard at the end of the day.
‘All I Want is Everything’ is an outstanding ballad, Elliot pulling off a quality vocal when singing ‘And if you could see what’s going on/behind these private eyes/the truth would look so easy now/but I’m running out of lies’ and Phil Collen’s beautifully restrained solo breathing more emotion into a song that’s already full of it. ‘Breathe a Sigh’ and ‘Blood Runs Cold’ are quality slow-tempo numbers that are well written and performed, but ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies?’ is just a track too far. It pales to the other ballads, and frankly, after three of them, do we need this one?
But it’s the new sound that really turns heads here. ‘Truth’ opens the album with it’s leery guitars and thumping drum-n-bass. The lyrics are also more intriguing – ‘i’ve been burning/and dousing the flames/i feel the whiplash/of the backlash of my face – ‘am i the victim of youth/is this the truth/why don’t you tell me’. Joe could have almost been singing about his band’s dying popularity. ‘Turn to Dust’ is not quite as good with its eastern-metal influences, but the chorus is enjoyable and again the lyrical content is more edgy than before – ‘sentence, rape me/segregate me/I got the fear that I am gone – turn to dust’.
‘Work it Out’ is Vivian Campbell’s masterpiece, a mid-tempo rocker compelete with a smoky Elliot vocal, catchy lyrics, a wonderful stuttering guitar sound, superb bridge-cum-chorus and terrific mid-section. It was eventually released as a single and registerd as a minor UK hit. The only disappointment with ‘Deliver Me’ is that it isn’t heavier than it is. The lyrics are like something pulled from a best-selling horror novel – ‘and I’m tied to the sky/as you claw at my eyes/and I wait for the flood/I swim in blood/as I crawl to my knees/and I beg your disease’ – not very Def Leppard at all. Great tune though, and followed impressively by the brilliant and even heavier ‘Gift of Flesh’, a modern day return to their early days.
The album closer ‘Pearl of Euphoria’ follows the lyrical and musical trend of the above tracks. After listening to ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ (mow the lawn – who me?/walk the dog – not my style man!’, imagine listening to a number that proclaims to ‘Feed the demon, kiss the flame, feel your desire;temptation, break the vow/cut flesh from the sacred cow’. Another winner.
I keep harping back to the new sound and the more mature and insightful lyrics, but it can’t be highlighted enough just how good this record is. The band should be given immense credit for trying something new, and even if the sales figures didn’t reflect it, achieving something to be very proud of.