Artist: Def Leppard
Album Title: Diamond Star Halos
Label: Bludgeon Riffola/Mercury Records
Date of Release: 27 May 2022
I thought long and hard before writing this review. Does the world really need yet another two-bit hack writing a review of the latest Def Leppard album? Probably not. But, in the end, I thought ‘why not?’ After all, I have been a fan of the band for my entire music-listening life and, in my days at Powerplay, I had the privilege to interview vocalist Joe Elliot around the time of the ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ album I believe. It was one of the best experiences of my life and Joe was a lovely guy, not rushing me, telling me he’d chat for as long as I wanted. Rock stars, as we all know, are not like that and it reinforced my affection for the band.
That being said, I must admit that I have not been a big fan of the Sheffield rockers for a number of years. ‘Diamond Star Halos’ is the twelfth studio album they have released over a staggering 42-year period that began the year I was born with ‘On Through The Night’. How depressing – I feel old now. The first five albums are all brilliant in different ways, with the trio of ‘Pyromania’ (1983), ‘Hysteria’ (1987), and 1992’s ‘Adrenalize’ being bona fide classics in my eyes. In actual fact, it was ‘Adrenalize’ that was my first entry point to Def Leppard, probably a couple of years after its release.
Since then, I am going to be kind and say that their output has been patchy. I never gelled with ‘Slang’ (1996), whilst ‘Euphoria’ (1999) and ‘X’ (2002) had their moments. But everything since has been very disappointing in my opinion. I will admit that I got a bit carried away with my review of ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ (2008) in the pages of Powerplay, because time has proven that it has not stood the test of time with me.
And so, in 2022, after a seven-year wait, we are presented with ‘Diamond Star Halos’. Here goes…
First off, it features no fewer than 15 tracks and spans a mighty hour. Therefore, in order to remain consistent, this is too long. As I listen, I find that it reminds me of an annoying ex that would talk and talk, never shutting up. And worse still, despite the incessant verbal diarrhea, very little of any substance passed her lips. The same is true of ‘Diamond Star Halos’, because it goes on and on, with very little in the latter stages to justify its length.
This is a shame, because there is enough within the first six songs in particular, with one big exception, to get reasonably excited about. And I will start with my favourite song from the entire album, ‘SOS Emergency’. This song. This. This is what I dearly wish Def Leppard would still sound like. Big in-your-face riffs from the off, Joe Elliot sounding like Joe Elliot at his best, layers of vocals, and a hook-laden chorus. It channels their inner ‘Hysteria’ and I make no apologies when I declare that this is how I love Def Leppard to sound. I’m well aware that many fans will be screaming at me along the lines of ‘stop living in the past’, ‘embrace the new’, or ‘you’re plain wrong, you fool’. That’s fine, but when the ‘new’ has never reached the heights of their 80s heyday as far as I’m concerned, I’ll stick with my opinion and suffer the flack. As a final comment on this, there’s a reason why Def Leppard played ‘Hysteria’ in its entirety a few years ago – it’s because it’s a killer album; we know it, and so do they.
Anyway, let’s move back to the opener to this new album, ‘Take What You Want’ because it is actually really quite good. It has an urgency about it that builds with the intro, only to unleash into a pretty decent, powerful central riff. The layers of vocals that’s archetypal Def Leppard make an appearance, and the song rips along at a fair pace, full of muscular bravado, with enough catchiness to keep me listening. The more I listen, the more I like it, and there’s even room for a brash lead solo trade-off between Phil Collen and Viv Campbell. It bodes well.
Up next is ‘Kick’ and, having initially hated the very bones of it, I now grudgingly have to admit that it’s a catchy, fun, up-tempo little bastard with hooks that burrow deep whether you want them to or not. It’s undeniably poppy and the ‘nah, nah, nah’ bits still irritate, but the guitars are front and centre and whether I like it or not, it has got the better of me.
‘Fire It Up’ and ‘Liquid Dust’ are both thoroughly decent songs too. In the case of the former, I love the wailing lead guitar squeals, the chunky bass of Rick Savage, and the chorus is an insidiously catchy beast. I’m not a fan of the vocals as much here though, as they veer a little close to spoken territory, rather than being sung. The latter has a greater atmosphere to it, and I like the slightly more chilled-out vibe, that’s tinged with a little sadness unless I’m hearing things that aren’t there.
The one big exception to the opening sequence of tracks is the utterly hideous (in my opinion) ‘This Guitar’. Featuring American singer Alison Krauss, it is an unashamed country/bluegrass song that doesn’t belong here. If I want to listen to country music, I’d panic, and then find a country record to play. But I don’t, and I certainly don’t want a Def Leppard album to feature such a song. I’m sure plenty of you will enjoy it, but nope, it’s not for me, and I will gladly never listen to it again. To compound things further, Alison Krauss features on ‘Lifeless’ too. It isn’t as toe-curling as ‘This Guitar’, but the country twang to it is not to my tastes at all.
It’s fitting that I’m in a bad mood now, because there are eight more songs on ‘Diamond Star Halos’ and there are very few of these that I really want to discuss. Not that they are bad necessarily, just that they feel a little ‘meh’ for my tastes. ‘U Rok Mi’, which should be destroyed for the unfunny deliberate misspelling alone, is one of the few exceptions, as it has a proper energy to it and feels more like a Def Leppard song than most.
‘Goodbye For Good This Time’ features some sumptuous orchestration and a gorgeous acoustic guitar solo but I’m sorry to say that it lacks the killer chorus, central melody, or genuine emotion that I expected. It does get better with repeated spins, but it still feels like an opportunity missed. ‘All We Need’ sounds like it should be on a U2 album given the intro, and the cheesy chorus that misses the mark a little. ‘Gimme A Kiss’ is a throw away song to be honest, something or nothing, and whilst there’s a definite ‘On Through The Night’ echo within the brooding closer ‘From Here To Eternity’, it has the feel of being too little, too late.
Overall, I have heard Def Leppard create worse, and so this is a step back in the right direction at times. However, the early promise of some stronger songs and palpable energy is ultimately scuppered by too many songs that are just ‘ok’, that do very little to ignite any kind of enthusiasm within me. And the country songs? Just because Robert Plant went in that direction with Alison Krauss, it doesn’t mean that Def Leppard should take the same path. The less said about them, the better quite frankly. I’m left feeling disappointed, but not altogether surprised. Take it or leave it, but here ends my personal take on ‘Diamond Star Halos’.
The Score of Much Metal: 65%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: