Tragedy is virtually synonymous with Def Leppard.
For more than a decade, the British band has sustained more devastating hardships than most rock bands combined, except Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Def Leppard has encountered death, divorce and dismemberment. You could say the band has been cursed.
Sadly, Def Leppard’s constant bouts with catastrophe have become a joke. Whenever some tragic event occurs, people are more prone to react with a chuckle at first and then feel bad.
The most recent episodes affecting the Def Leppard camp were the divorces of singer Joe Elliot and guitarist Phil Collen from their wives.
Appropriately, both got divorced during the recording of their new album “Slang,” because all tragedies seem to strike while the band is working on a new album.
Guitarist Steve Clarke, a chronic alcoholic, died from asphyxiation while the band was assembling “Adrenalize.” He died like a true rock star: He purportedly choked on his own vomit.
But a band isn’t a true rock band without something happening to the drummer.
Unlike Spinal Tap, whose string of drummers met their doom a multitude of ways, from a freak gardening accident to spontaneous combustion, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen didn’t die.
He did something almost as bad. One of his arms was severed in a car wreck, making him the only one-armed drummer in rock. Incidentally, he lost his arm while the band was putting together “Hysteria.”
Guitarist Phil Collen doesn’t think his band is cursed. If it is, it certainly pales in comparison to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Those guys really had it bad,” Collen said from Phoenix this week. “We met one of the original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the drummer (Artimus Pyle). After the plane crashed that killed off the band, he went to get help at some farm and a farmer actually shot him in the ass. This was after he had just come down in an airplane.
“So we don’t really see ourselves as being cursed, especially when you spread it out over a 15- or 16-year period.”
Indeed the tragedy angle on Def Leppard has been rehashed and rehashed to the point of overkill. But calamity has been a far more interesting subject to discuss because their music certainly hasn’t.
1987’s platinum-selling “Hysteria” stretched the boundaries of over-produced arena schlock. Just when you thought the band had reached the limits of rock ‘n’ roll Cheese Whiz, 1992’s “Adrenalize” came along and stretched the threshold even further.
Thankfully, the band’s stomach for slick studio recordings has shrunk, because the band has finally assembled its most worthwhile set since 1983’s “Pyromania” with “Slang.”
Def Leppard strips off the gloss on this new long-player and demonstrates their savvy for melding styles outside their traditional hard rock arena.
“It was just time to change,” Collen says. “You have to do that to survive. Plus it’s fun to push the envelope a little bit and bring in some current influences.
“The one thing that is always constant is there’s change all of time, especially in music. And I think that’s healthy.”
“Slang” rocks just like any other Def Leppard release, but musically the band has really made a step forward. The lead cut, “Truth,” dips into trance rock. “Turn to Dust” is bolstered with Middle Eastern textures while the title track leans toward techno rock.
“I think it’s the best album we’ve done,” Collen says. “I’m really, really pleased with it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Def Leppard plays The Gorge on Monday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $43.85 and $30.75, available at Ticketmaster outlets or call (509) 735-0500.
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