Def Leppard – Volume Three (UMC/Virgin)

The noughties was a strange decade for NWOBHM pioneers turned hair metal heroes Def Leppard.

Having somehow survived the double assault of grunge and nu-metal, Sheffield’s finest continued to demonstrate a steely determination to evolve.

And if the third of the band’s career-spanning vinyl box sets underlines that never-say-die attitude, it’s not all essential Lepps.

This mixed bag of signature originals and occasionally wayward covers marks a transitional period for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

In fact, for many fans of the band’s chart-busting late 80s heyday, 2002’s X, 2006’s Yeah! and 2008’s Songs From The Sparkle Lounge represent Leppard’s ‘lost years’.

Which is a crying shame.

An overlooked period of the band’s stellar career contains hidden gems, worthy nods to the past and a glimpse of the band’s spectacular future.

But it also features more covers than the local duvet shop.

So if you’re not a fan of bands playing music by other bands…look away now.

X marks the Leppard’s spots

In 2002 Def Leppard had it all to do.

No change there, then.

Right from the off a bunch of childhood buddies tearing down the walls at Crookes Workingmen’s Club were up against it.

And for the next 25 years the Lepps had experienced knockbacks and tragedy in equal measure.

But they bounced back every single time.

And after confounding the critics with 1999’s Euphoria, follow-up X hit the spot.

Lead single Now is the last Leppard song to chart inside the UK’s Top 25 and almost two decades down the line it remains an anthem for the ages.

Follow-ups Four Letter Word and Long, Long Way To Go fared less well but the latter remains a bona fide Leppard classic.

That X became the band’s sixth consecutive top 20 album is a testament to the work ethic and self-belief of a band that’s built its reputation on both.

Missed it first time around? Don’t miss out again.

Yeah! No.

There’s a reason that 2006’s Yeah! is the only Def Leppard album to chart outside the Top 30.

It’s goddam awful.

In fact, this dubious covers album couldn’t even crawl inside the top 50.

And if there’s one criticism of the third piece in the band’s boxset jigsaw it’s the decision to focus so heavily on Leppards’s various forays into unknown territory.

In addition to Yeah! you get Yeah! 2. And Yeah! Live.

Hell Yeah! Or hell awaits. Depending on your standpoint.

Somehow David Essex’s Rock On — second up on the original release — became a staple of Leppard’s live set.

Who knows why?

Sure, it gives Rick Savage and opportunity to flex his rhythmic muscles but if the funky bass line’s the best thing to be said about a truly shocking song…

A tip top take on T. Rex’s 20th Century Boy better perfectly suits glam fanboy Joe Elliott and his pals.

And a cracking version of Mott The Hoople’s The Golden Age Of Rock N Roll is a genuine highlight.

After that? It’s B-side material at best.

Ironically, Yeah! 2 is the superior collection of covers here with Under My Wheels and the previously unreleased Phil Collen demo of Roxanne both on point.

Skip to both. Then move on.

Leppard Sparkle as Lounge lizards

By 2008 Leppard were back to doing what they do best.

A star-studded album launch show at the Islington Academy announced Songs From The Sparkle Lounge to the world.

And what a record!

The band blasted back in to the Top 10 of the UK album chart and landed at number five across the Pond.

But a record which recalls early AC/DC and vintage Zeppelin is classic Lepps from start to finish.

Lead single Nine Lives featured country superstar Tim McGraw as Elliott and co. tapped into another massive market.

And Love would build on that new-found relationship with the country crowd when the band performed the song alongside Taylor Swift for their 2008 CMT Crossroads show.

Elsewhere the Savage-penned C’Mon C’Mon emerged as a proven party starter.

And Come Undone is Elliott at his emotive best.

Clocking in under 40 minutes SFTSL was short, sharp and incredibly sweet.

And it prepared the way for the biggest decade of Def Leppard’s career.