British band Def Leppard helped make heavy metal a global force beginning in the early 1980s and went on to become one of the biggest and most successful bands of all time. Even though heavy metal made its shadowy beginnings in the late 1960s the genre became a commercial success of epic proportions only in the early 1980s. The purists have never accepted Def Leppard as a genuine heavy metal band but there is no doubt that their early albums On Through the Night and High ‘n’ Dry were authentic metal. Then the band decided to broad base their appeal and along with their brilliant producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange they created their typical sound that has been so easily recognizable all over the world ever since. Their mammoth success started with the album Pyromania, exploded globally with Hysteria, and since then they have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. A spectacular achievement for a band that started in bleak and depressed Sheffield, England, way back in 1977.
Walking Away from the Safety Net
The alternative music and grunge juggernaut overshadowed Def Leppard in the early and mid-1990s but the band kept working on their music. They had enormous troubles in their personal life and wanted to express their feelings in their music. The most loved guy in the band, the fantastically talented lead guitarist and songwriter Steve Clark had died in 1991 and the band never really recovered from this tragedy. Their mood was dark and they wanted to create a raw, stripped-down, no-frills album that explored the new sounds in their heads. They worked with a new producer Pete Woodroffe and on May 14, 1996, Def Leppard released their sixth studio album titled Slang. Def Leppard fans and the critics didn’t know what to make of it when they first heard it. The songs were different and the signature Def Leppard sound was not there. After the initial bewilderment, people listened to Slang, and then the songs began to grow on them.
A Clutch of Bleak & Painful Songs
“Work It Out” starts as a sad song but gives hope and determination to even the most disillusioned listener with its message of never giving up. The lyrics radiate strength “We show the world a brand new face/ It’s taken us all this time/ All this time, All of this doubt/ We get to work it out/ All of this doubt, We get to work it out.” It’s the band’s philosophy and work ethic that is personified in this song – A band that continually suffered career-ending tragedies but worked harder than before and kept putting out great music. “All I Want is Everything” is a confession of a man who wants everything in life and puts his needs above everybody else. It’s about how we keep wanting satisfaction and become self-obsessed forgetting others who care for us and have given us so much.
“Breathe a Sigh” is an expression of the disillusionment of a broken relationship in which one has invested so much and worked so hard to make it work. Letting go of someone you cared about is the hardest thing knowing that life will never be the same again. “Turn to Dust” is the acceptance of the bitter fact that all your hard work in making something work has proved to be in vain. Slang talks primarily about failed personal relationships and the haunting “Blood Runs Cold” best exemplifies it. Lead vocalist Joe Elliott puts all his feelings of helplessness and hopelessness into the song that talks about the end of a relationship that is dying out and both the man and woman know it. It is sad, depressing, and downright gloomy but you can’t tear yourself away from it.
The tragic aftermath of a failed relationship is explored in “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” and the darkness is unsettling. The little things of the past haunt the ex-lovers and you can feel the heavy weight of the lonely future that awaits them. The song eats away at you long after you have stopped listening to it. All the songs on Slang are mournful meditations on failed relationships except the funky and playful title track “Slang” which has a Prince-inspired groove. It’s the only respite in an album of insightful and philosophical slow burners that seep in slowly and stay there.
A Gritty Album that Continues to Haunt
Phil Collen and new guitarist Vivian Campbell play lead guitars and their sound is penetrating, hurtful, and expansive. It touches you and captures the downward spiral we all find ourselves in now and then. Rick Savage turns up the notch with his bass and acoustic guitars and adds value as he has always done. Drummer Rick Allen supports with his immaculate drumming and exemplifies the never-say-die Def Leppard spirit. Joe Elliott sings like his heart is being torn apart even as he is singing and proves yet again that few singers can convey raw emotions and feelings with more passion than him.
Slang did not get the respect and appreciation it deserved when it came out in 1996 and people talked about how it was a complete departure from the Def Leppard canon. Over the years especially from 2000 onwards, Slang has got the attention it merits from Def Leppard fans, rock music listeners, and critics. Slang is now considered an important work from a band that dared to put out an honest and introspective album that they knew would not burn up the charts. Def Leppard put all the pathos and emotions they felt at that time into Slang and it is their most personal and confessional album to date. Most people think of Def Leppard as a feel-good and fun band but Slang brings out their maturity and wisdom better than ever.