Def Leppard – Mirror Ball (2011)

Posted: July 9, 2011 in Music

Childhood memories come in many different forms. For some it’s that first bicycle – for others that first love. These memories might bring back images of summer vacations, birthday parties, or baseball games. As we get older, though, many of these memories fade away.

For me, it’s becoming more and more difficult to remember the days of my youth, with only a handful of clear recollections left. The ones that remain, however, have proven to be defining moments in my life: like the one centered around the first time I heard Def Leppard’s Pyromania.

It was 1983, and I was in junior high. My high-school aged sister was involved in the cheerleading squad at her school. From behind her closed bedroom door, I heard something amazing taking place. Guitars, drums, screams – something these ears had never experienced. I would sneak in that room between practiced pompon routines to catch a listen of “Photograph,” the first of many hits for Sheffield, England’s favorite sons. The rest was history.

Since then, Def Leppard has the storied career most rock bands only dream about. Eleven studio albums, a Greatest Hits collection, and hit after hit along the way. But their legacy wasn’t achieved without a few lumps of bad luck along the way. Just as the band was breaking through to the mainstream, drummer Rick Allen was involved in a severe car accident in 1984 that cost him his left arm. The band never sought a replacement, however, and Allen’s commitment to return set a precedent of perseverance that would carry through the entire band’s career. With a new, computer-enhanced drum kit, Allen would return to his role with the band just two years later, and the group catapulted to the top of the rock scene.

Tragedy struck the band again in 1991, when long-time guitarist Steve Clark lost his battle to addiction when he overdosed on a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. This left the band as a four-piece, and every intention was to continue on that way – but the live shows needed a second guitarist to emulate the recorded sound and harmonics the band had become known for. Def Leppard brought Dio and Whitesnake veteran Vivian Campbell aboard, and despite a drop in popularity due to the “grunge” climate of the early 90s, the band trudged on.

The last fifteen years have been steady for the band. The lineup hasn’t changed, the albums have kept coming (despite a drop in sales from the early days), and Def Leppard has firmly planted themselves into the hierarchy of rock and roll greats. The sound is a little softer these days – a little more “mature” if you will – but the band still rocks. The proof of that lies in the band’s latest release “Mirror Ball,” recorded live throughout the group’s 2008-2009 tour in support of their “Songs From The Sparkle Lounge” tour.

Amazingly, Mirror Ball is the first live album from these guys – which is pretty inexplicable considering the amount of concert footage the band released as the “official videos” for their hit songs early on. It seems strange that we get the “live album” treatment in 2011, when it may have been better served in 1996, but whatever the reason for the delay – the wait is finally over.

Mirror Ball proves – without a doubt – that Def Leppard’s iconic status is well-deserved. Just about every hit is covered here, and while the 2-disc set leans heavy on the earlier stuff (“Rock of Ages,” “Photograph,” “Animal” and the like), there is just enough of the post-Hysteria material here to please the fan that has stayed with them all the way.

Not only does the collection cover the full history of the band, it sounds absolutely amazing as well. On first listen, I suspected that the “live” songs were given a heavy dose of post-performance mixing and editing, but after several discerning listens by my self-proclaimed perfect ears, I’ve concluded that these were just performed well with meticulous sound-board attention. These are truly live recordings (with the best versions hand-picked over the course of the tour) that fill the room with the aura and sound of one of music’s most recognizable, definitive bands.

Detractors will say that singer Joe Elliot’s powerful voice has dropped of a notch – which I won’t argue – but the heart and soul of each track still comes across loud and proud. In fact, the live versions give guitarists Phil Collen, Campbell and founding bassist Rick Savage the opportunity to showcase a few extra riffs and notes along the way, adding new layers to the original recordings.

As a live album, you’d be hard pressed to find a better “sounding” effort. It’s crisp and loud, and is a perfect representation of what made this band the arena-rock gods they are. Sure it might have been a few years (or decades) late, but some things are well worth waiting for.

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As an added bonus, the band included three new tracks to tide us over until the next full-fledged studio release (due late next year). “Undefeated” was released to rock radio last month, and is loaded with the trademark vocal harmonies, chunky riffs and sweeping sound the band has done for years. There’s nothing new to this track, but it shines with the polish and grandeur worthy of inclusion into the long-running list of Def Leppard singles.

“Kings of the World” showcases Savage’s writing and piano with a softer, psychedelic vibe that Elliot called “a very Queen-type vocal thing.” It’s a bit of a different style for the band, but the perfect place to experiment with something a little left-of-center.

Phil Collen gets author credits for the album closer “It’s All About Believing.” The track features a very stripped-down atmosphere with simple drums, guitars and lyrics – yet when put together is as epic as anything the band has ever recorded. Think of it as a modern-day version of “Animal,” and you won’t be too far off. It’s obvious with this track that the band still has what it takes to write powerful, memorable rock, and wets the whistle just enough until the next go ’round.

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8.5/10

Tracklist:
CD1:
01 – Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
02 – Rocket
03 – Animal
04 – C’Mom C’Mon
05 – Make Love Like A Man
06 – Too Late For Love
07 – Foolin’
08 – Nine Lives
09 – Love Bites
10 – Rock On

CD2:
01 – Two Steps Behind
02 – Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
03 – Switch 625
04 – Hysteria
05 – Armageddon
06 – Photograph
07 – Pour Some Sugar On Me
08 – Rock Of Ages
09 – Let’s Get Rocked
10 – Action
11 – Bad Actress
12 – Undefeated
13 – Kings Of The World
14 – It’s All About Believin’

http://www.amazon.com/Mirrorball-Live-More-Def-Leppard/dp/B004Z6M1DY/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1309972739&sr=8-6

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