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Retro Active

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★★★★½
(53 Reviews)

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  • Not too long ago, Def Leppard was one of the most exciting bands in rock; they were popular AND talented, a dynamite combination of one part brain, one part heart, and one part libido, that mixed up one of the best formulas around. Unfortunately, critics started blaming them for just that – “The Formula.” Then, in recent years, as they’ve been trying to fight their way out of “The Formula” label, fewer people have been noticing/caring, and critics that DO notice make sure to slam them for trying to be something they are not. Alas, in the case of Def Leppard, I DO agree with that unfortunate claim.Regardless of what type of person you are, Leppard Hater, Leppard Lover, Leppard “They [stunk] since Hysteria” -er, Leppard “I stumbled on this page by accident” -er, or other – er -, if you, like me, wish the real Def Leppard would please stand up, buy Retro Active and prepare to get more of your 15 bucks worth than you have in awhile. It’s been a decade since this last great Def Leppard Album, but a decade isn’t as much as one might think, given it would take another quick decade after this to go back to their Pyromania days. And the bottom line is that, not so long ago, they really were on a role, musically speaking. I can’t believe how much I almost forgot how much I loved this band till I threw this on the stereo a few weeks ago – and subsequently haven’t been able to stop listening to it. “X” really is a bad album, so bad, it brainwashed me into temporarily losing too much respect for the band. It’s hard for me to tell if they really have always been a little too money hungry, but regardless, if you like good music, let’s put everything aside and proclaim the wonderful evolutionary direction the band was going in the early 90’s, with the wonderful succession of Pyromania to Hysteria to Adrenalize to ironically, a “retro” album.Without giving it all away, here’s a quick runthrough of the wonderfully long (did I mention you get your money’s worth) and successfully diverse (keyword – SUCCESSFULLY) song roster. “Desert Song” took awhile to grow on me, but once it did, I woke up to the AMAZING guitar solos — they were showing signs of prog with their choices of scale usages and rhythmic motives! And they STILL managed to be catchy. I wish they would have taken that idea and made all of their subsequent music with that in mind. “Fractured Love” has highly effective percussive elements while still keeping a shoutalong chorus (think the next logical step after “Rocket”). The way they covered “Action” really blows me away, as I wish their own writing was as experimental yet quality filled as those that influenced them. There are the hits “Two Steps Behind” and “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, both with acoustic and electric versions. The latter has a piano/vocal version also.Personally, the electric version of “Two Steps Behind” is one of their best all time moments, it just takes me to another world. Fans of the “Leppard Layering technique” – with guitars upon guitars and vocals upon vocals – will not be disappointed. Joe Elliot plays some cool (albeit inexcusably short) boogie woogie piano as the intro to a revision of one of their earliest songs (“Ride into the Sun”), and REALLY hits the jackpot with the gutwrenchingly highly artistic collaboration with the Hothouse Flowers (“From the Inside”). The marriage of music to lyrics here is supreme. The driving d minor riff to “Ring of Fire” will have you hypnotized into playing it yourself for hours on end, and “I wanna be your hero” and “She’s Too Tough” are way too strong to merely exist as B Sides.I could go on forever, but I believe my point is made. Who REALLY is Def Leppard? It’s always controversial to answer a question like that with one particular album, released, years ago, and ESPECIALLY when the answer isn’t “Hysteria.” And in fact, it’s not that it’s not “Hysteria”. Again, “Retro Active” is a collection of all sorts of various material, much of which was originally given birth along with that landmark album from 1987.Bottom line: THIS is why today’s rock music is inexcusable. It (including Leppard) has only gotten worse since then, and with an album like this, there really is something here for everyone. Why aren’t today’s bands feeling more of a kick in the [rear]? It’s because not even the record companies think that music is in a lot of trouble.If you feel the same way, email me.

    Posted on January 3, 2010