In 2009, Def Leppard fully expected to start working on new music on tour, take 2010 to finish writing and recording, and this year return with a new studio CD and a tour to support the record.
The tour is happening. The studio CD, not so much.
Instead, the band has done something that it has managed to avoid at any other point in its three-decade history: release a live album from its most recent tours. The CD, “Mirror Ball: Live and More,” includes three new tracks, and that is essentially how far the band got in working toward a new studio CD.
“I think if we had done another studio album, it would have been another year, and we didn’t want to do that,” guitarist Phil Collen said in a recent phone interview. “We were ready to go on tour, and I think that’s important.”
In fact, Collen said he and his bandmates are pretty much finished with the album-tour, album-tour routine the group has followed throughout its career. They aren’t even going to think in terms of “writing a record” anymore.
“We’re just planning on (writing) songs. I think that’s really the way to go about it,” Collen said. “That’s what they used to do in the ’60s, the Beatles, (Rolling) Stones, (Led) Zeppelin, David Bowie. They would all do that. They would (just) write songs. I love the idea of getting back to that process, instead of writing an album or recording an album, which seems so, especially in this day and age, so kind of antiquated. It’s good to remember that some of these artists, (Jimi) Hendrix, all of these guys, were like ‘I’ve got a couple of new songs. Let’s go and record them and be excited about that.’”
Part of what has the band members in the mindset of writing and recording whenever they feel like it — instead of having to block off time to come up with an entire CD — is a result of no longer being signed to a record company. Instead, “Mirror Ball” is the band’s first release through its own label, Bludgeon Riffola, with distribution through Mailboat Records.
“We’ve closed a chapter in a book at least, and that was being with a label and actually doing the album tour, album tour (routine) and it has to be that,” Collen said. “All of a sudden, we’re doing something we want to do and I really like that freedom.”
For much of its career Def Leppard has fared just fine within the album-tour, album-tour cycle routine of the record business. Formed in 1977 in Sheffield, England, by singer Joe Elliott and bassist Rick Savage, the band built a foundation with the early albums “On Through The Night” (1980) and “High ’N’ Dry” (1982). Then Def Leppard hit paydirt with the 1983 CD, “Pyromania.” Powered by hits such as “Foolin’” and “Photograph,” the album went on to sell 7 million copies.
The next CD, 1987’s “Hysteria,” did even better. With hits such as “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” sales of that CD eventually topped 15 million and made Def Leppard the most popular hard rock band on the planet. “Adrenalize” followed in 1992, and while not as big a blockbuster, it sold more than 3 million copies.
The arrival of grunge in the 1990s didn’t do Def Leppard any favors, and the band’s albums during the decade delivered lackluster sales. But as the band has moved through the past decade — releasing a covers disc, “Yeah!” (2005) and a CD of new material, “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge” (2008), the band has maintained an arena-level following, even as illegal downloading and less-than-compatible musical trends cut into album sales.
Now comes “Mirror Ball,” a two-disc set was recorded on Def Leppard’s 2008 and 2009 tours. And because it’s filled with the band’s hit songs, the group’s shows this summer will share plenty of similarities to what fans hear on the new CD.
“I think for any time in our career, this is the first time we can say we’re going to sound exactly like the record,” Collen said of this summer’s concerts. “We’re actually going to be doing a lot of the songs off of the record because we are promoting the live album.”
Collen also feels “Mirror Ball” shows some qualities of his band that aren’t represented as well on its studio albums – beginning with the group’s vocal abilities.
“There are lots of bands out there that use samples and stuff (for vocal harmonies),” he said. “We actually sing. We’ve got this great blend. And that just comes from doing it so much and actually putting a lot of work and effort into it. It’s something we’ve progressed at. We still get better at it. And the fire, I think a lot of bands, as they get older, they lose the fire. We certainly haven’t done that.”
Alan Sculley writes for Last Word Features.