Saturday, April 5, 2014

Def Leppard - Slang (Deluxe Edition)

Def Leppard
Slang (Deluxe Edition)
Bludgeon Riffola Ltd./Mailboat Records Inc.

Following on from the success Mercury Records has had with deluxe reissues of ‘Pyromania’ (1983), ‘Hysteria’ (1987) and ‘Adrenalize’ (1992) in recent years, it’s not all that surprising to see Def Leppard’s sixth full-length album ‘Slang’ (1996) being given the deluxe treatment.
Of all of Def Leppard’s nine studio efforts, ‘Slang’ is without a doubt the band’s most controversial release. Despite the divided opinions the album conjures up amongst fans, and the lack of success the album enjoyed upon its initial release (The album was modestly successful, particularly in Japan, Asia and Europe, but was considered a spectacular failure in the U.S.), Def Leppard has put together their own deluxe edition version of ‘Slang’ some eighteen years after its first release.
But while the band (Who comprise of vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists/vocalists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist/vocalist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen) claim that this new rerelease of ‘Slang’ is a deluxe version of the album, I can’t help but feel a little short changed with what’s on offer.
The first disc of this two disc set obviously begins with the album itself. After the multi-platinum success of the above mentioned albums, fans were somewhat taken aback with what the band had to offer on ‘Slang’ when it was first released in 1996. And it’s not all that surprising given the circumstances. Any band who enjoyed phenomenal success in the ‘80’s knew that with the onset of the ‘90’s, times were going to be different. Def Leppard anticipated this, and decided to shake up the tried and true formula of the past, and try something new. And one of the big changes was selecting Pete Woodroffe (Who previously worked with the band as engineer/mixer on 1993’s ‘Retro Active’) to take on production duties instead of opting to utilise long time producer/collaborator Robert John “Mutt” Lange. This allowed the band to find a far more organic sound, and push beyond the boundaries of their past to reinvent themselves in a musical sense. And the band truly achieved what they set out to do.
From the moment ‘Truth?’ starts, it’s clear that ‘Slang’ was far from the typical Def Leppard album. ‘Truth?’ sees the band experimenting with Middle Eastern influences, distortion and heavy guitars and drum rhythms, but with the multi-layered production of old stripped away enough to reveal a far rawer and organic Def Leppard at heart.
Much like the opener, ‘Turn To Dust’ fuses Middle Eastern sounds/loops with clutches of heavy guitar tones, but boasts the band’s trademark harmonies in full force, while the title track ‘Slang’ is the perfect amalgamation of classic Def Leppard song writing and modern production and experimentation.
But ‘Slang’ wasn’t all about pushing the envelope in the song writing sense. The slower ballad-like efforts ‘All I Want Is Everything’, ‘Breathe A Sigh’, ‘Blood Runs Cold’ and ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies’ showcase a more stripped back, serious and mature sounding Def Leppard (Which isn’t all that surprising given what the band members themselves were going through at the time), which gives the album an honesty and genuinely human emotion (Especially from Elliott) that was sometimes masked during the band’s heyday by Lange’s over the top production multi-tracked vocals.
Elsewhere, Campbell well and truly earned his place in the band after producing an absolute gem in the form of the edgy rocker ‘Work It Out’, while the grittier and darker ‘Deliver Me’, the fast paced and high octane anthem ‘Gift Of Flesh’ and the atmospheric slow burning closer ‘Pearl Of Euphoria’ round out the album in somewhat different fashion usually accustom to Def Leppard’s efforts in the past.
In terms of extras, the first disc is fleshed out with some b-sides from ‘Slang’ singles. There’s the soulful laid back rocker ‘Move With Me Slowly’ (Which was the Japanese only bonus track), an original version of ‘Truth?’ (Which is interestingly different from the version that appeared on the album), the heavy handed rockers ‘Burn Out’ and ‘Worlds Collide’ (The former is a less than serious throwback Def Leppard anthem, while the latter is in line with ‘Slang’. But interestingly enough, both tracks didn’t emerge until 1999, where they were released as b-sides to singles released from ‘Euphoria’) and the simple acoustic based ‘Can’t Keep Away From The Flame’ (Which is another real winner).
While the first disc will no doubt appeal to those who are newcomers to ‘Slang’, long time fans will already be familiar with the bonus tracks. But with the second disc boasting a collection of fourteen tracks that have never been previously released, it’s safe to say that it’s the second disc on this reissue that will appeal to everyone.
The opening track ‘Turn To Dust’ and the closer ‘Gift Of Flesh’ are interesting, if only to hear Collin provide the lead vocals in these early versions of the songs, while ‘Raise Your Love’ provides a fascinating insight to the development of the title track ‘Slang’. It may have the same general structure musically, but the song really is quite different from its final version, which makes it a real standout.
Unfortunately, hidden diamonds in the rough on the second disc are somewhat of a rarity. For the most part, the second disc offers up rough mixes/early drafts of songs that appear on ‘Slang’. While interesting, most only had minor alterations before being laid down in the studio for their final form, which means that after a cursory listen, you’re unlikely to revisit the songs after an initial listen through.
The tracks worthy of inclusion here include the rough mix of ‘Deliver Me’ and ‘Anger’ (Which is an early version of ‘Deliver Me’), ‘Black Train’ (Which is an early take on ‘Gift Of Flesh’), ‘All On Your Touch’ (A Campbell penned track that remained unfinished until Elliott finished the vocals a couple of years ago) and ‘Move On Up’ (A rather rough and ready Campbell penned/sung demo).
Overall, the first disc is great, even if there’s no indication of whether ‘Slang’ has been remastered or not, with some rarities to make it that much more appealing than a simple rerelease. And while the second disc is patchy and forgettable in places, it does boast some unreleased material that appeals to true diehard Def Leppard fans.
But what’s really disappointing is what’s not included in this deluxe package. And that’s some of the other b-sides to some of the ‘Slang’ singles. The two Jeff Beck covers (‘Led Boots’ and ‘Cause We Ended As Lovers’) and the two Elliott tracks from the film ‘When Saturday Comes’ (‘When Saturday Comes’ and ‘Jimmy’s Theme’) are only available on the iTunes version of the deluxe reissue (Which also includes an additional four early versions of songs from ‘Slang’). As far as I’m concerned, a true deluxe edition version of ‘Slang’ would have been expanded to three discs to include these tracks, as well as the five acoustic tracks recorded live in Singapore (‘Acoustic In Singapore’), which were included on the initial limited edition version of ‘Slang’ back in 1996. Why these weren’t included is anyone’s guess. But given that this version of ‘Slang’ is really going to appeal to diehard fans (Let’s face it, this rerelease isn’t likely to attract a whole new audience for the band is it?), it seems a shame to short change fans with a two disc deluxe edition over a far superior and comprehensive three disc version. And as for the packaging – Well I would have liked to have seen some more detail in the liner notes as well. The small piece from Elliott is cool, but the lyrics have since been substituted with a bunch of photographs from the era. Another squandered opportunity as far as I’m concerned.
In the end, this revamped and expanded version of ‘Slang’ is a solid rerelease, and should appeal to those who are chasing down some of the hard to find b-sides, or may have avoided the album purely based on the backlash the band received when the album was released. In all honesty, ‘Slang’ may be one of Def Leppard’s most daring and different sounding albums, but it’s also one of their strongest.
Personally, I would have preferred the band to give ‘Slang’ the justice it so richly deserves and give fans a truly deluxe version of one of their most misunderstood and maligned albums to date.

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© Justin Donnelly

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