[Album Review] Classic Rock Gladiators: Def Leppard v Whitesnake

Def Leppard and Whitesnake come to Belfast next weekend for a mega co-headlining tour that hits seven cities across the UK.

Both bands have released new albums in the last month or so.  Do they still have the ability to rock out or is it just a tired collection of re-hashed staples?  Not actual staples, of course.

Time for a head-to-head…

Band: Def Leppard

Album title: Songs from the Sparkle Lounge

Year: 2008

Track Listing: 1. Go; 2. Nine Lives; 3. C’mon C’mon; 4. Love; 5. Tomorrow; 6. Cruise Control; 7. Hallucinate; 8. Only The Good Die Young; 9. Bad Actress; 10. Come Undone; 11. Gotta Let It Go

Running Time: 39m 22s

First out of the block are Def Leppard, formed in 1977.  “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge” is their eleventh album of original material and was released at the end of April.  It performed well, peaking at #5 in the US and #10 in the UK, their best chart performance since 1992’s “Adrenalize”.

Go

“Go” charges out of the blocks in what is a throwback to their mid-90s flirt with a heavier, industrial sound and more serious subject matter.  “We look to our leaders with the lies they try to feed us/Like a knife they try to bleed us/And they cut us real slow”, lead singer Joe Elliot croaks with menacing passion.  The band are on fire here, as tight as they’ve sounded in ages in what is a cracking opener.

Rating: ****

Nine Lives

The lead single features country singer Tim McGraw on vocals in – what those familiar with his brand of slow-tempo country balladry consider – a surprisingly successful pairing.  It’s a classic Def Leppard rocker; super riff, strong melody, excellent backing vocals, tons of energy and brilliantly produced.  Slipping in as many card-playing references as possible, the track comes off as snappy and fun (“Let it roll, let ’em go, let ’em fly/Took a chance on a chance/But the aces were high”).  Probably their best anthem since 1999s “Promises”.

Rating: ****1/2

C’mon C’mon

A good-time glam-influenced cock-rocker with entertaining if far from enlightening lyrics: “Hold me close and I’ll make everything come true/Just let the man in me meet the woman in you…Ready, steady, go wherever you want to/I bet the seven wonders ain’t got nothin’ on you”.  Lots of fun, another strong melody and plenty of vibrancy.

Rating: ***1/2

Love

“Love”, a passionate love song that in DL’s heyday would have probably challenged for the #1 spot, starts out with a single electric power chord before sliding in to an acoustic-backed regret – “Love, look what you’ve done to my heart/Oh, I should have known from the start/That, you’d go and tear it apart/Oh, and now you desert me”.  As trademark vocal harmonies kick in and guitars, drums and a dramatic orchestral backing are introduced, we’re reminded of 70s Queen and a beautiful, heartfelt ballad is delivered

Rating: ****1/2

Tomorrow

We’re back rocking again with a trademark riff and “whoo whoo whoo” backing vocals.  A musicially and lyrically exciteable tune (“I wanna break down, I’m gonna shake down/I just discovered I can’t wait until tomorrow comes”) it features another cool solo in a strong mid-song bridge.

Rating: ****

Cruise Control

We’re back in mid-90s “Slang” era again for “Cruise Control” – another successful stab at more serious subject matter.  Starting out with a lone bassline (has any other DL song started that way before?) and in to a menacing mid-tempo, pseudo-industrial sound.  “I close my eyes I bend in prayer/I train my mind to just not care” could refer to a troubled Christian, crouched in front of his altar.  We soon discover it’s not: “Daylight shines upon the hour of my faith/I step in to the sun/I shield my eyes from the glory of the morning/And blow it all to kingdom come”.  Probably the best hard-rock track they’ve done since 1999s “Paper Sun“.

Rating: *****

Hallucinate

Guitarist Phil Collen wrote this one so there is always a chance this is gonna be a straight-on rocker.  And it is.  Let down by a flat chorus, the song starts well enough, seemingly describing some smoking, drop-dead gorgeous woman (“You’re a roxette/Undeniable/Unobtainable/Is what you are”) but perhaps being an ironic denouncement of her own flattering opinion of herself (“Hallucinate/Its in your head/Hallucinate/In every word you say”).

Rating: ***

Only the Good Die Young

Although it could be about many fallen star it is unlikely to be a song about Def Leppard’s own Steve Clark – well not entirely anyway – who died at the age of 29 in 1991 from an accidental overdose.  “I saw you in a dream/You’re falling apart at the seams/I heard it in your voice/That you have no choice” Elliot sings before showing his understanding: “This genius is a heavy load/That leads you down a lonely road”.  Some nice Beatles-like influences on this one but it again struggles with an unimaginative chorus.

Rating: ***

Bad Actress

Reviewers who haven’t been overly-impressed with the record have been hailing “Bad Actress” as one of their favourite parts but I could skip this for a living. It might be fast and rocking but it reminds me of 2002’s “Four Letter Word“, lacking a hook and musical value: “You can’t sing can’t dance/Can’t fit in your pants/You’re a bad actress/You can’t run can’t walk gotta learn how to talk/You’re a bad actress“.  They would have been better off covering Terrorvision’s song of the same name.

Rating: *

Come Undone

I won’t suggest they should have covered the Duran Duran song of the same name because “Come Undone” works very well. It’s all about a throbbing guitar riff, catchy chorus and the story of a man who isn’t all he seems (“Everybody wants to be you/But I know you see right through/This sad masquarade“) but is thankful that his girl is there for him (“When I come undone/I know you’re the only one“).

Rating: ****

Gotta Let It Go

Another opportunity for the band to power their way through a more minacious tune.  Vivian Campbell’s “Gotta Let It Go” is a gritty message about coming to terms with life moving on and the passing of better days:  “There was something/Something just beyond your reach/The bigger the prize the more you desire the less you can feel“.  Well-written song, excellent solo and another feather in the cap of Campbell who could probably put together a good solo record.

Rating: ***1/2

Summary

Although I liked their 2002 album “X” it suffered from too many outside writers (Marti Frederikson, Wayne Hector, Steve Robson) and some of the collaborative efforts from the band were mediocre (“Cry”, “Gravity”, “Girl Like You”).  With “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge” each individual has been largely left to produce their own songs and the quality has gone up substantially.  Bassist Rick Savage contributes two fine tracks (“C’mon C’mon”, “Love”), Vivian Campbell gives us three (“Cruise Control” and “Gotta Let It Go” are especially good), Phil Collen brings “Tomorrow” and “Hallucinate” to the table and Joe Elliott tempers the excellent “Go” and “Come Undone” with the dire “Bad Actress”.

Good to be Bad - Whitesnake

Band: Whitesnake

Album title: Good To Be Bad

Year: 2008

Track Listing: 1. Best Years; 2. Can You Hear The Wind Blow; 3. Call On Me; 4. All I Want All I Need; 5. Good To Be Bad; 6. All For Love; 7. Summer Rain; 8. Lay Down Your Love; 9. A Fool In Love; 10. Got What You Need; 11. ‘Til The End Of Time

Running Time: 59m 21s

Whitesnake, formed in the same year as the Leps, also released their 11th studio album in April.  It was their first new material since 1997’s “Restless Heart” and has met with strong reviews and sales (210,000 copies sold to date).  Lead singer David Coverdale is the only original member of the band so is his presence (he co-wrote all the songs with guitarist Doug Aldrich) enough to convince long-time fans that this album is worth their time?  And can this album convert me – someone who only had a passing interest in the band from their late 80s success – into a fan?

Best Years

You can hear the Led Zeppelin influences straight away on album opener “Best Years”.  Coverdale’s booming vocals fire a barrage of self-pity: “Somebody help me/I’m feeling low/I’ve been down so long/Don’t know which way to go/Drowning in sorrow/In deep misery“.  They might sound trite, espeically in the context of the chorus (“You came along like a sun in the night/Took me out of the shadows/Into the light/Now these are the best years“).  But “Best Years” is heavy and melodic with great guitar work – the kind you don’t really hear enough anymore.

Rating: ****1/2

Can You Hear the Wind Blow

Cock-rock lives even more so on “Can You Hear the Wind Blow”: “You don’t have to worry/Just feel the fire inside/Pretty baby I want you/I’ll keep you satisfied“.  Or how about: “All I want is just to spend my live with you/Take it easy on the curves and we’ll get through“.  Sounds corny but, heavens, this is some of the greatest riffs I’ve heard in a long time.  Great arrangement, fantastic bassline and I’m especially loving the way the verse begins with a single guitar before the rest of the band kick in at the top of the third bar.  Classic.

Rating: *****

Call On Me

Another killer riff but it’s not just about the riffs.  It’s about the brilliant musicianship, the powerful melodies, the energy and bare-faced sexuality.  How would you react if your former lover said “I can call on the hounds of love/To chase you down/And bring you home“.  Ok, you could run a mile but if it were David Coverdale you’d probably lay out a Pedigree Chum banquet for the predatory animals he was sending for you.

Rating: ****1/2

All I Want All I Need

We calm things down a little bit with the “Is This Love” throwback, “All I Want All I Need”.  But that’s not a criticism.  There’s no doubt it’s a measured mid-tempo power ballad and could undoubtedly take the radio by storm if given the opportunity.  Mainstream lyrics (“No matter what I have to do/Through thick and thin/I’ll be your friend/By your side ’til the very end“), a “fist in the air” chorus of “All I want, All I need/It’s more than I can ask for“, a stirring bridge and emotive guitar solo.  It’s all here.

Rating: ****

Good to be Bad

The title track and it’s a seventies soundtrack with a fast tempo and some nice chord progression.  Lyrically it’s typical fare (“Tell me baby what’s on your mind/You got me runnin’ on overdrive“) but I don’t mind this when I’m enjoying the music.  The chorus isn’t as good as what has come before but it’s all done with such enthusiasm and sincerity that you can’t help adore it.  And what a killer solo.  Great stuff.

Rating: ****

All For Love

As each song starts you wonder how they can keep it up, how can they keep the killer songs coming?  Surely a song that shares a name with a Bryan Adams, Sting and Rod Stewart “classic” can’t succeed?  But succeed it does.  How far would you go for love?  “I’m gonna tear this place apart/just to get close to you/Tear down any wall/if that’s what I have to do/To get next to you“, says Coverdale, and you’d believe him.

Rating: ***1/2

Summer Rain

A beautiful acoustic power ballad, “Summer Rain” is yet another top class song.  Weighing in at over six minutes it never outstays its welcome.  Anyone who has felt long-distance love will get lost in the affective lyrics: “Lately I’ve been thinking/Even tho’ I’m miles away/I can feel your love around me/You’re with me every day” and smile fondly at the lyrical imagery expressed in “Love comes over me/Falling like summer rain“.  Much like Motorhead’s considered 2006 track “God Was Never On Your Side”, could Whitesnake have recorded one of their best songs late in their career?

Rating: *****

Lay Down Your Love

I don’t want to be criticial of the functional and limited vision of the album’s lyrics but we re-visit the theme of love and sex again on “Lay Down Your Love”.  “All my life I´ve been alone/Looking for somebody/To call my own/It feels so good/Since I found you/You´re my one and only/Dream come true“, Coverdale explains about his new squeeze.  Hey, you can’t really knock it as long as it means he is spending more time writing great tracks.  More great guitar work here and the newest member of the band – drummer Chris Frazier – is on fire here with bassist Uriah Duffy

Rating: ***1/2

A Fool in Love

Whitesnake’s strong blues influence is always apparent on the record but not more so than on the sludgy “A Fool in Love”, a song whose chorus is reminiscent of the classic 80s hit “Here I Go Again”.  Brilliant melody, nice backing vocals and another near six-minute masterpiece: “I’ve fallen in love again/Playing the fool again/Here I sit in my lonely room/Praying I won’t get fooled again“.

Rating: ****

Got What You Need

Fast-talking, fast-tempo rock and roll but I guess it’s the best way to get across the message about David Coverdale’s virility: “I wanna be your midnight lover/Spend the night underneath the covers with you/I got what you need“.  Whether it’s the fact that he is a “backdoor man”, that he delivers a “backstreet kind of love” or his ability to “kick down your door … and treat you rough”, he wants you to know about it.  Fast and fun, really good hook.

Rating: ***1/2

‘Til the End of Time

A fitting close to the album as David laments being away from his lover.  With a steel guitar backing he professes that he will love her “as deep as the ocean” and “til the sun don’t shine” and do so “til the end of time“.  It’s really faultless stuff, beautifully performed and sung.  You know you are dealing here with a student of the game as you listen to each track.

Rating: ****

Summary

It was hard to go through each song individually because really there is not a great depth of variation to the meaning to discuss.  There are no hidden agendas or subtle wordplays.  This is just great bluesy hard rock  with brilliant musicianship, superb songwriting and vocal performance.  Not being a particular fan of Whitesnake previously I now have a new respect for the band and the brilliance of Mr Coverdale.  This is probably one of the best albums I’ve heard and has surprised me even more than Skid Row’s incredibly marvellous 2003 album “Thickskin”.  A must-buy.

Good to be Bad - Whitesnake

An extremely likeable album that takes a big leap from their previous album “X”.  Nice to see them try something a bit different with songs like “Go”, “Cruise Control” and “Gotta Let It Go”. Absolutely no filler, chock full of wonderful riffs and solos.  Probably one of the great rock albums of the decade and such a shame it will be ignored by the mainstream media.
3halfstar
4halfstar
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