Def Leppard — Diamond Star Halos (UMC/Mercury)
Rightly or wrongly every Def Leppard album since 1987 has been judged against the magnificent Hysteria.
And try as they might, the trusty Sheffield rockers have never quite managed to repeat that career-defining masterwork.
It’s hardly a criticism.
Hysteria isn’t just the best Leppard album of all time.
It’s one of the 20th century’s greatest pop metal triumphs — producer ‘Mutt’ Lange famously capturing the mood of a decade and the sound of a band on the cusp of global glory.
Nevertheless, every subsequent long player has been widely described as the ‘best thing since Hysteria’ or ‘not a patch on Leppard’s late 80s peak’.
So where does the hotly anticipated Diamond Star Halos fit into the post-87 canon?
Its meaty 15-song setlist certainly doesn’t lack ambition.
In fact, the Lepps used lockdown to cover all bases with blasts of glam rock, hair metal, country music, classic rock and more lending a greatest hits feel to this multi-layered project.
Krauss About That?
The appearance of Alison Krauss on two of Diamond Star Halos’ more evocative tracks harks back to 2008’s canny collaboration with Tim McGraw.
Back then, Nine Lives was Leppard’s open invitation to the country music crowd to get on board with the band’s radio-friendly soft rock anthems.
It worked an absolute treat and 14 years down the line recruiting Krauss will inevitably kick Diamond Star Halos into new territories unknowingly receptive to Joe Elliott’s South Yorkshire-meets-South Carolina twang.
Of course, the album’s title — nicked from a line that features in T-Rex’s Get It On — is the latest reminder that Leppard are frustrated glam rockers at heart.
Frontman Joe Elliott even set up side project Down N Outz a few years back to quench his insatiable thirst for all things 70s pop rock.
But Diamond Star Halos’ glittery lead single Kick is the first time (excepting 2006’s car crash covers collection Yeah!) that the NWOBHM pioneers have gone all in on their primary influence.
It sounds like a Down N Outz song.
Maybe it was.
Perhaps it should have been.
But it’s fast becoming one of those Def Leppard earworms that’s infuriatingly impossible to dislodge.
Def Leppard Fire It Up
On reflection Kick, Take What You Want and Fire It Up were the perfect picks as the first three singles from Diamond Star Halos.
Brash, brilliantly sharp and perfectly pitched at listeners of Planet Rock and Radio Two, they’re three bona-fide foot stompers that wouldn’t sound out of place on Hysteria’s perfunctory follow-up Adrenalize.
Expect all three to take centre stage on the band’s US stadium tour this summer (rehearsals are set to move from LA to Philadelphia any day after a brief showcase at the Whisky A Go Go last night).
But it’s highly unlikely one of the most intriguing tracks here will get a live airing any time soon.
Is Liquid Dust a ‘lost’ track from the Slang sessions?
It sure sounds that way.
1996’s purposefully detuned response to the unstoppable march of grunge rarely features in any ‘Best Leppard Record Since Hysteria’ lists.
It’s the least ‘Leppard’ Leppard album of them all.
But Liquid Dust is a timely reminder that there’s always been so much more to the Steel City’s finest than chart-busting pop rock cheese.
Tonally and lyrically it’s an unexpected triumph.
And it’s a perfect example of Diamond Star Halos’ refusal to play by the rule book or pander to expectation.
Take What You Want from Leppard’s 12th Long Player
The best Def Leppard album since Hysteria?
X, released under the radar in 2002, is the closest to that multi-million selling monster in terms of pure pop rock sensibility.
And Songs From The Sparkle Lounge — dropped six years later — marked a definite upturn in the band’s creative and commercial fortunes.
But Diamond Star Halos combines quantity and quality to breathe new life into one of British rock’s most reliable brands.
It manages to break new ground and fall back on a tried and tested formula.
It’s both overblown and understated, elaborate and, at times, reassuringly raw.
Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell can legitimately claim Diamond Star Halos is their best collaborative effort since the latter stepped in to fill Steve Clark’s formidable shoes.
And musically there’s so much to love about Leppard’s 12th studio album.
Take What You Want from a predictably classy record.
But at the very least respect the fact that a band with money in the bank and a back catalogue the envy of peers continues to produce new material that demands a return to the great Hysteria debate.