As the record-buying kids of the late ’80s have turned the corner into young-adult consumerhood, the generation that was so quick to abandon Metal Edge pinups like Warrant, Winger and Skid Row after hearing the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has become sentimental for the toys of its youth. Revisionist historians have begun waxing nostalgic over the leather-clad wannabes who fell by the wayside, which helps to explain the perverse success of this year’s Hollyweird Tour, featuring Poison, Faster Pussycat and Cinderella (dig the recent DTE sellout show). Even the fortunate few (read: Bon Jovi) who survived the Year That Grunge Broke have never enjoyed the kind of success in the post-Nevermind world that they did during the Appetite for Destruction era.
Def Leppard falls somewhere in between. Although lead singer Joe Elliott and Co. have stayed productive over the years, releasing four full-length albums of new material since 1992’s Adrenalize, and the band’s summer tours have proved a reliable draw at arenas and amphitheaters across the country, Def Leppard’s audience has been growing more selective (as Spinal Tap would have it) ever since the heyday of 1987’s Hysteria, a wildly successful cash cow that remains one of the seminal pop-metal albums of the last quarter-century.
Now comes X, a mostly disappointing effort that finds the 10-year-old lineup of Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen and guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell cranking out punchless love songs for their 10th studio release. Not that there aren’t bright spots: “You’re So Beautiful” and “Love Don’t Lie” are unabashedly catchy, and “Four Letter Word” echoes the swagger of past anthems like “Armageddon It.” But this quintet’s greatest strength has always been its ability to mix hard-rock riffs with appealing pop melodies, as it did so effortlessly on Hysteria, 1983’s Pyromania and even 1995’s “When Love and Hate Collide.” The band has abandoned that formula on X, delivering a set heavy on saccharine and light on the raw energy of its youth. (Tellingly, the band teams up with Andreas Carlsson and Per Aldeheim, the Swedish duo responsible for hits by Britney Spears and ’N Sync, on the embarrassingly boy-bandish “Unbelievable.”) The result is a collection of soft-headed misfires that sound more like vintage Bryan Adams than classic Def Leppard. These Sheffield-bred rockers may not have lost their knack for the perfect riff, but they’ve left their edge somewhere on the editing room floor.
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