Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Def Leppard “Slang” (1996)

It amazes me that there are still a fair amount of people that think that “grunge killed hair metal,” when in reality hair metal did just fine to kill itself off. 3rd tier bands were releasing mediocre product thinking they’d be able to ride Bon Jovi and Poison’s coat tails forever. What people always fail to understand, music is cyclical in nature and no one genre ever stays on top for long. When the stagnation sets in, all that needs to happen is for the right band to be in the right place at the right time to bring about sweeping change. And, that’s exactly what Nirvana did. Did they plan it? No, Cobain was lucky to stand upright. But, for that one moment in time, lightning struck Seattle and the musical storm once again changed.

So by the time 1996 rolled around, I think it’s safe to say that not many were pining for a new Def Leppard album, except those who were still sitting around blaming grunge for all their begotten musical ills. Shame of it is - what is probably the most misunderstood Def Leppard album was also one of their best. Had the Mercury promotional team handled things correctly, sales might have been more multi-platinum rather than just scratching gold.

I have to admit, the first time I listened to it I had taken notice how different the sound was. In fact, you couldn’t not notice. It was contemporary and not so reliant on technology or production. It was rough, down-tuned and dare I say, industrial. Title track notwithstanding, gone suddenly were songs about pouring sugar and getting rocked to make way for much more personal songs.

The first two tracks, “Truth?” and “Turn To Dust,” were not exactly the best choices for album openers. Not bad songs by any stretch, just out of place. Once track three rolls on, the title track “Slang,” the album just kicks in and never lets up. That title track also should have been the first single in the US, as it is the closest song here that bridges the gap between old Lep and new Lep.

From there on out, the next seven songs in a row all had hit single potential. From the Bryan Adams like “All I Want Is Everything” to the thrash-like blitz of “Gift Of Flesh,” even now these songs stand up remarkably well. Hell, maybe even better than when they were released.

But, it is absolutely criminal that the superior power ballad “Breathe A Sigh” was never promoted in any way, shape or form as a single. A bit sparse and almost a capella at times, it is hands down one of the best songs this band has ever recorded. That goes for the other power ballads, “Blood Runs Cold” and “Where Does Love Go When It Dies,” which I’d throw up against any ballad the band has ever recorded.

I think this relative failure hit the band pretty hard. I saw them on the “Slang” tour, with Filter in tow, and although they played quite a few songs from the album, the passion and conviction seemed to be missing. They’d regroup though and go on to record a few more killer albums, all pretty much ignored as well. They have seemingly turned into a nostalgic touring act now but here’s hoping they still have the fire to get a few more albums out as there is definitely a huge hole in the musical world without them.