If Def Leppard have learned anything over the years, it’s don’t mess with what works. They tried that for a spell: Remember Slang and X? Probably not. In the past few years they’ve aimed to get back to basics: Witness the creative rebirth of 2015’s self-titled LP and the not-always-successful attempt on 2008’s Songs From the Sparkle Lounge to coat themselves in glammy glitter.
Diamond Star Halos, their 12th album, is Def Leppard’s most obvious callback to glam’s glory days as well as their own past triumphs. By pulling inspiration from the genre’s heavyweights – David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and T. Rex, whose immortal “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” gives the LP its title – and sending it through a turn of their career highlights (Pyromania, Hysteria), Def Leppard have effectively made a tribute record to themselves featuring 15 new and original songs.
And like most tribute albums, the take-and-give results on Diamond Star Halos don’t always match what was heard the first time around. But the band hasn’t sounded this invigorated on record since the early ’90s. And they come out swinging: The opening one-two punch of “Take What You Want” and “Kick” may not be quite representative of the rest of the album (the last half sags a bit), but it sure does set a tone.
“Kick” sounds like where T. Rex would have ended up at the end of the ’70s if Marc Bolan didn’t die in 1977. “Fire It Up” is a rocket-fueled Hysteria-era stadium sing-along. “SOS Emergency” rides a monster guitar riff carried over from the band’s most commercially successful years. And the throwback “Gimme a Kiss” travels an expected, but not unwelcomed, path.
With an hour-plus running time, Diamond Star Halos takes some detours along the way, especially a pair of songs with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss that have more in common with modern country’s classic-rock fixation than her dust-bowl-Americana collaborations with Robert Plant or Def Leppard’s hyper-polished glam-metal. And they again load up on the adult-contemporary pop (two of them featuring Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” pianist Mike Garson) that has made more recent records an occasional slog. Trim away the fat, however, and Diamond Star Halos presents the veteran band in some refreshingly familiar settings.
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