Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
They’ve been through incredible highs and shattering lows but the one thing that has consumed their souls above all is music and in ‘Diamond Star Halos’ Def Leppard prove once again that this laser-like focus produces some of the most anthemic hard rock music of this, or any other, era.
This album, their twelfth, more than just tips the hat to the glam rock era that birthed its title but imbues its very DNA with the power and the sense of good times that typified that golden era.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a tribute to those times, as loving and warm as the references are, because the quintet of Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell have crafted something that is both traditionally anchored in great song writing but also fresh and modern.
Very much a Def Leppard album for 2022, ‘Diamond Star Halos’ bristles with the spiky energy the band displayed at the start of their career, a visceral excitement and passion that was wonderfully untamed.
Just how the band captured this tightrope walk between the confidence and maturity that comes from years together, this line-up having clocked up three decades now, and that blazing fire of youth is a marvel but one they’ve achieved.
Over a generous fifteen tracks the quality never even hints at dipping and the album stands as a testament to their eternal commitment to their craft.
Hearty party rockers mix with a smattering of slower songs that highlight the dynamic range that Leppard have made their own, refining the style that was properly forged in the nascent days of working with Mutt Lange.
As technology has moved on, the necessity of booking an expensive studio to funnel all your creativity in one precious time frame has faded, the global pandemic also giving space. These factors have meant that the band were able to have the freedom to work on the album their way. This approach certainly shows and ‘Diamond Star Halos’ benefits from a tight but loose feel that shows in every groove of its two-year creation.
The pounding and sparkling opener ‘Take What You Want’ could have been hewn from ‘Pyromania’, the bounce and grit fully there, the solos stinging.
Kick’ is a fizzing blast of 70’s style glam, its bubble gum hard rock replete with gang choruses and sounds like T Rex jamming with The Sweet on their heavier album tracks.
This hat trick of hard hitters is completed by ‘Fire It Up’, its dirty, skittering riff full of attitude and the solo ripping things apart in no uncertain measure.
So far, so rocky. It’s now though that things take a delightful twist with the country tinged ‘This Guitar’ which features the gorgeous tones of Alison Kraus adding her vocal magic and some lush orchestration. Having dabbled in the fringes of the genre before, this isn’t a total left field choice but its certainly one that the band feel comfortable in and the blend is perfectly balanced, the writing and production giving space to each side of the equation.
Whilst much maligned by those who view the genre through outmoded ideas full of cliché, it’s become more and more acknowledged that the quality of both the writing and performances in Country has always been there. Leppard have the experience to understand that one central tenant and embrace it: the song is key. Kraus also appears on the shimmering pop rock of ‘Lifeless’ and her contribution raises things even further, the contrast between her vocals and those of Elliott beautifully counterpointed.
It’s foot to the floor again with febrile rocker ‘SOS Emergency’, the Bowie meets the mystical East wonder of ‘Liquid Dust’ and the Slade title inspired ‘U Rok Mi’ where Savage’s bass gets centre stage as it drives the song and Leppard throw in a massive glitterball to get feet dancing.
As with ‘Take What You Want’ before it, there’s a touch of the Electric Light Orchestra in the superior ballad ‘Goodbye for Good This Time’ as strings swell and there’s a sense of Jeff Lynne’s troupe running through its veins. Adding to this already delicious concoction, the keys by David Bowie cohort Mike Garson and a sublime acoustic guitar solo make this the best tearjerker they’ve done since ‘Love Bites’.
The bright and breezy ‘All We Need’ is Leppard at play, energised and full of a widescreen, feelgood bonhomie that manages to be big but curiously intimate at the same time, the mate who draws along side to check on you during a great night out.
There is a Chilli Peppers feel to the funk and swagger of ‘Open Your Eyes’, Savage and Allen carving out a canyon wide groove whilst Collen and Campbell are on blistering form, Elliott’s vocal going from laid back to attacking in the chorus.
Gimme A Kiss’ is a full-on stomper that you can imagine will be filling arenas and stadiums shortly before it’s time to slow things down again with the second big ballad of the album, ‘Angels (Can’t Help You Now)’. Again, graced with the keys of Mike Garson and tasteful orchestration, this sounds like Leppard’s take on what things may have sounded like had Bowie collaborated with Elton John on ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
With the sleek but gritty ‘Unbreakable’ insinuating its hook-filled chorus into your brain, there’s just time for ‘From Here to Eternity’ to strike the killer blow. Arguably the best track on the album, its epic scope and drama filled dynamics are never overwrought but distil all the magic that Leppard have managed to capture on the album, everything just seemingly bigger and brighter.
This may be a huge sounding track but it never loses sight of the still, small voice and very human heart at its centre, the core strength making it even more powerful as the band bring out some of the very best performances they’ve committed to record.
Vital, intense and thrilling, ‘Diamond Star Halos’ is the sound of a band reborn and stands shoulder to shoulder with their greatest work.
Check out the full tracklisting below.
TRACKLISTING1. Take What You Want
3. Fire It Up
4. This Guitar [feat. Alison Krauss]
5. SOS Emergency
6. Liquid Dust
7. U Rok Mi
8. Goodbye For Good This Time
9. All We Need
10. Open Your Eyes
11. Gimme A Kiss
12. Angels (Can’t Help You Now)
13. Lifeless [feat. Alison Krauss]
15. From Here To Eternity
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