On Def Leppard’s ninth studio album, Yeah!, the band become the most famous cover band on the planet. The songs they picked to cover are ones they remember fondly from their youth; a soundtrack, as it were, to their pubescent lives. “Yeah!” is rewarding taken at its face value premise of celebrating the longevity of the group while honoring some pop classics. But it is disappointing that, while the production values the band is known for is still top notch, stamping their indelible sound, one that took them to the upper echelons of rock stardom in the 1980’s, onto the performances of these fourteen notable pop/rock tunes from the late 1960’s and 1970’s, are relatively straight forward note for note copies of the originals.
Ironically and quite unintentionally, Yeah! exposes in glaring light Def Leppard’s strengths and weaknesses as artists. The band’s strengths, going all the way back to their first full length recording, On Through The Night, to Yeah!, has always been their exuberant performances that showcased very fine musicianship with boundless passion and energy devoted to the craft of recording songs. They love rock ‘n’ roll and it shows on all of their recordings.
But it is their weakness as artists of vision that prevents them from being anything more than a highly polished bubble gum band. Lead singer Joe Elliot once grumbled about the disappointing sales of Slang (released in 1996), their foray into, for Def Leppard any way, experimental pop, that it was okay for U2 to go in different directions as pop artists, but Leppard fans want only more Hysteria (their 17 million selling and still counting CD). What is oblivious to Elliot and his band mates, but known to everyone else, is that when you write lyrics like, “I’m hot, sticky sweet/ From my head to my feet”, people are not looking to you to change the world.
This leads to the disappointing aspect of Yeah! In paying homage to the music that they idolized in their youths, it seems they gave too much respect to the music as each of the 14 songs are virtually played note for note with nary a deviation from the original recordings. This then begs the question, “What was the point?” Def Leppard would probably answer that the point was to acknowledge their musical influences and spotlight the artists they hold dear to their hearts. Another answer may be that the band is completely out of ideas.
Unfortunately, Yeah! suffers from a serious lack of originality. Flawlessly played and produced as it is, and the band is very much having fun playing these songs, it lacks the excitement and punch that could have made these already familiar songs seem brand new. It’s as if the band thought it would be great to make a recording of all cover songs and then, without further discussion of how to turn a cover record into a Def Leppard one, went straight into the studio and out came Yeah!
Paul McCartney once asked, “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs/ And what’s wrong with that?” And the answer is, of course, nothing. You can add silly party songs as well. Rock ‘n’ roll is, and should be first and foremost, about fun. And to that extent Def Leppard shines. So until the next Hysteria, or heck, I’d even settle for another Euphoria at this point, Yeah! will have to suffice. It is, in the end, not a bad disc to blast from your car stereo as you cruise up and down Pacific Coast Highway in the early evening sunset this Summer, or at least pretending you are.
(Notable songs: Waterloo Sunset, Street Life, Drive-In Saturday, No Matter What)