I can almost hear the sound of the naysayers. “But why?” They’ll say. “What’s the point?” They’ll cry. Like it matters. Like it’s important, forgetting the point that the answer to both the questions is “why not?” And “does there have to be one?”
Frankly, if Def Leppard want to go in the studio and record orchestral versions of 16 of their songs, they don’t have to answer to anyone. They just have to pass the Bon Jovi test.
I’ll explain. Getting on for 40 years ago, the first band that I ever truly loved was JBJ and the lads. They released a record called “This Left Feels Right” 20 years ago. Re-recorded versions of some of their classics. It sucks. Its not quite Metallica and Lou Reed, “Lulu” Bad, but its not far off. I left them behind.
The truth is I’d have left this behind too, 18 months ago. I’d have met this with a shrug that said “yeah The Leps? I liked “Pyromania” and “Slang”. Then some things happened. I saw a band cover “Animal” at a gig i was at and you have to say its a banger, a couple of months later I went to see Ricky Warwick play live and he spoke so lovingly of Joe Elliott that I listened to the album that had just come for review. “Diamond Star Halos” was the sort of record that reaffirms why you loved a band.
Then I watched “Bank Of Dave” on Netflix. The last scene is Leppard belting some tunes out and you think: man these boys are alright you know. As they’ve proved, yet again by playing a gig to stop a venue in their hometown closing.
So you’re listening to “Drastic Symphonies” and you’ve gone through “Turn To Dust” (from one of those favourite records) and your notes say things you expected them to, like “cinematic” as “epic as Game Of Thrones” and you’ve done “Paper Sun” and remembered how good a chorus it had, but then there comes the acid test.
The next two are big hits. These are going to tell you if there’s any point, any thought or if they’d just phoned the thing in Jovi style.
“Animal” tells you all you need to know. It sounds like “Animal” being played with an orchestra. And this is one of the biggest bands in the world, so they aren’t messing about. They’ve gone to Abbey Road and stuck the Royal Philharmonic in there. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is particularly striking, turned as it is into a lust-filled breathless piano duet. The joint vocals are impressive.
A few don’t work as well. “Hysteria” (never a favourite of mine) just sounds like a slowed down version of the original, and the grandiose “Love Bites” likewise, but it’s almost an hour and a half long, this record and there’s more hits than misses. These include one of the newest songs, “Goodbye For Good This Time” and “Love” which smells like a musical theatre track now, while “God’s Of War” sounds like an epic battle here.
The second of the “…..Halos” tunes “Angels (Can’t Help You Now) lends itself to the bombast, and at the other end of the scale “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – from the early days – revels in its makeover.
“Switch 625” rumbles like Queen (and the guitar of Collen and Campbell I’d sensational), chest-beating, and oddly heavy, its better than “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”. It’s strange, maybe that the ballads work less well here, a fact that “Too Late For Love” neatly underlines by being superb.
The exception that proves the rule, of course, is “When Love And Hate Collide”. One of a handful of romantic songs I like, is a gem, still.
The credits roll, really, with “King Of The World”, which is basically a show tune, now and all the excess that entails is proudly on show.
So, as the questions at the start asked: Why? Easy. Because a great song is a great song – there are loads of them here. And even more crucial, because they wanted to, and were gifted enough to pull it off.
One for the fans, maybe, but it’s a cracker all the same.