Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mirrorball - Def Leppard - 2011

It's tough to swing the pendulum from heavy, heavy metal to current-day Def Leppard but I'm gonna try. It's 2011, Barack Obama is in the White House, Osama Bin Laden is dead, Anthony Weiner has offered a humiliating mea culpa and I feel very comfortable in proclaiming Def Leppard fandom. Born in the early '70s and into high school when Hysteria, um, hysteria set in on the world, it's practically in the DNA. That said, even I cannot pretend to know how to objectively approach a release like Mirrorball. The latest in a series of Wal-Mart-affiliated releases from a band well, well beyond their hard rocking beginnings, it's hard to want to purchase such a record, let alone sit down to listen and try to dissect. I'll write a little more but if you want to stop here, rest assured it's the bloated, polished turd you suspect it is and not worth stepping into your local soulless megastore to waste twelve bucks upon.

From its horrid amateurish cover art to its shallow, irony-free disco-era title to its bulky, old-school double-(make that triple-) disc fatpack jewelcase, Mirrorball seems custom-made for its Wal-Mart exclusivity (and, I'm sure, it was). "You knew what you were getting - why bother and why complain?" you may ask and you're right. There are thousands of folks who will want this, love this and be very happy with the volume of product offered at a reasonable price. I don't hold that against anyone but I also cannot forgive the band for continuing what I consider a lazy, coasting freefall into eternal mediocrity or worse.

It's because I cannot get over High 'n' Dry. I cannot let go of the notion that a band who could make a hard-rock album so absolutely perfect cannot catch that magic again. And I will not pretend to be above the charms of Pyromania, Hysteria and even recent releases as current as 1996's Slang. Even 2006's Yeah! showed signs of real rock-ability, albeit with cover material. Mirrorball captures the Songs from the Sparkle Lounge tour of 2008-2009, in support of an album that sounds like a Cheap Trick record. Actually, in defense of the frequently excellent Cheap Trick, let me clarify that: like a shitty Cheap Trick record. Think The Doctor. With Tim McGraw.

I actually attended a show from this tour and not to go and frown at the band. I went because, as I have stated here and before, I love Def Leppard and I somehow harbor a faith that they shall rock again. My heart was broken on August 21, 2008 when I watched as Def Leppard had their collective ass handed to them by co-headliner Billy Idol along with Steve Stevens who, by the way, have not forgotten how to rock. Joe Elliott was in poor, poor voice and the entire affair sounded like a Hysteria cover band (Hysteria, perhaps?). I will say that Mirrorball effectively captures that concert experience as we get a predictable run-through of only the biggest hits, a couple flops from ...Sparkle Lounge and it all has a shallow, heartless vibe that positively aches for the memory of Steve Clark.

There is not a single reason to purchase Mirrorball, especially if you own the classic records from High 'n' Dry through Hysteria. There's not a single new interpretation nor improvement on any of the source material. The sound itself lacks the richness and vibrancy that enhanced even their overpolished material and does really come across as though recorded in any given ho-hum venue. The source album scorecard breaks down like this:
  • High 'n' Dry 2
  • Pyromania 5
  • Hysteria 6
  • Adrenalize 2
  • RetroActive 2
  • Yeah! 1
  • Songs from the Sparkle Lounge 3
"Action" and "Bad Actress" are listed as "Bonus Tracks," which makes no sense whatsoever as they're also available on iTunes and not exclusive to the CD (perhaps because they weren't on the standard setlist? They add nothing, regardless). You do get three new studio tracks, "Undefeated," "Kings of the World" and "It's All About Believin'," which sound like a decent classic-era b-side, an insipid Queen tribute and an utter piece of garbage, all in that order.

A third disc DVD goes behind the scenes on the tour (yawn), provides four decent live numbers (all bested by the far superior In the Round, In Your Face DVD) and adds two music videos from ...Sparkle Lounge (yawn again).

If you want a worthwhile document of Def Leppard on fire live, you have to check out the Deluxe Edition of Pyromania. If you're a real fan of Leppard's recent musical direction and their neverending nostalgia tour then, by all means, this may be a worthwhile purchase. There are many, many fans out there who get a lot out of these recent shows and it is very possible I just caught the band on an off night. That said, I would much rather see them touring in support of an incredible new album rather than, as they are at present, in support of a bloated live hits package from...the last tour.

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