Written by: Michael Sandler
British rockers Def Leppard released a deluxe edition of their classic, multi-platinum 1996 release Slang on Feb. 11, and fans by the million rushed to download and purchase the record from stores.
Actually, the only true thing about that sentence is that Def Leppard did indeed re-release Slang last month.
The sad reality is no one cared when Slang was released; the music business in the mid-90s was far different than what Def Leppard came up in. Grunge had transformed the music industry in the early 90s, making Leppard’s brand of melodic pop rock obsolete. And even though grunge itself was taking its final breath in 1996, the damage had been done. Def Leppard had gone from selling 15 million albums (1987’s Hysteria, an almost-perfect album), to battling for relevancy in 1996.
So what did Def Leppard do? Did they stick to their guns and write accessible, catchy rock tunes? Or did they take a sharp left turn and produce a modern, stripped-down and introspective record that was bound to fail?
The answer: a bit of both.
Slang is completely unique and is a snapshot of a schizophrenic band that is totally with it and out of it at the same time. The deluxe edition includes remastered versions of the songs, as well as demos and unreleased tunes from the recording sessions.
Not many people bought Slang the first time around. Here are five reasons why they should buy it now:
1. Rick Allen’s drum sound. Everyone knows the story of Allen’s comeback from the tragic loss of his left arm in a 1984 car accident. His reliance on electronic drums helped set the stage for Leppard’s mid-80s’, hyper-produced sound. In 1996 Allen’s return to an acoustic drum set shaped the band’s music. The drums sound organic, and Allen transforms Def Leppard into an extremely professional-sounding garage band. The highlight is “Work It Out;” a mid-tempo rocker that gives Allen the opportunity to beat the shit out of his drums; he even leads a 30-second jam during the song’s fade-out. The breakdown in “Turn to Dust” also kicks ass.
2. Joe Elliott’s voice. Elliott is one of the most underrated rock singers around and never really gets his due. He’s a screamer for sure, but he also really knows how to sing, and Slang proves it. Elliott’s restrained approach allows the band to breathe a bit and actually humanizes the music. He strikes a balance between Bono and Bowie for most of Slang, but also Reznor, as his voice is funneled through distortion on the album’s industrial-tinged opener, “Truth?” But the strangest moments are when Elliott goes all TLC on the soulful “Breathe a Sigh,” and when he raps on the title cut. Strange times.
3. Where are the guitars? They’re there; you just have to listen. On every previous Def Leppard album, you couldn’t ignore the guitars if you tried. They were simply everywhere (there might be 20 guitar tracks on some Hysteria cuts). But not on Slang, and that’s OK. Phil Collen and new guitarist (at the time) Vivian Campbell go for a more economical, gritty sound on Slang. They forgo whammy bars and blazing solos; it sounds like Collen and Campbell just walked into a room and plugged their Les Pauls into Marshall amps.
4. Def Leppard gets serious. From 1980 to 1995, the band stood for absolutely nothing except having fun while listening to great rock music. That was literally it. On Slang, Leppard don’t try to be Bob Dylan, but they try to be something. Elliott and Collen were each coming out of divorces and bassist Rick Savage’s father had died. The band didn’t become morose, but there is an edge to Slang that no other Def Leppard album has. “All I Want is Everything” should’ve been a staple on mid-90s’ radio next to Oasis and Counting Crows but because of the stigma of being popular in the 80s, it never happened. “Deliver Me” snarls (its demo is actually called “Anger”), and “Pearl of Euphoria” closes the album on a psychedelic note.
5. The band will never sound like this again. The album tanked, so Leppard returned to their classic 80s’ sound on 1999’s Euphoria, thus putting an end to its most creative period as a band. It didn’t sell, but Slang proved the band could actually be artistic when it wanted to.