Music

Def Leppard: Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection

Rob Horning

A collection of rock tracks so slick and depthless they epitomize the plastic fantastic emotionalism of mega-producer Mutt Lange.


Def Leppard

Rock of Ages: the Definitive Collection

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2005-05-17
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Record producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange has so much to answer for. How different the world would be had he chosen to make his millions trading stocks or developing real estate rather that manufacturing pop songs. Whenever there is an awful trend in pop -- Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears -- his hand will inevitably be detected. Lange manufactures the kind of phenomena that make you think payola is rampant and the bulk of the record-buying public is a bunch of brainwashed dupes. His work makes one lose faith in the good sense of one's fellow humans and adds immeasurably to the perplexed alienation of all of those poor benighted souls who think there should be a correlation between success and talent. The astounding list of songs he is responsible for reads like an Entertainment Weekly "50 Cheesiest Songs" list, if not a hack DJ's playlist at the worst wedding you've ever attended: AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long", Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car", Loverboy's "Lovin' Every Minute of It", Huey Lewis & the News' "Do You Believe in Love", Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You", the Cars' "Drive", Bryan Adams's "Everything I Do, I Do It for You" -- it goes on and on, betraying Lange's unerring gift for the kind of putrescent schlock that sends people with even a passing interest in music scrambling for some blunt instrument to smash the radio playing it or, failing that, to bash one's own head in to escape hearing it.

But Lange's most egregious offense may have been his taking a perfectly harmless bunch of English lite-metal Slade wannabes, destined for the same career path as such other genre stalwarts as Armored Saint and Saxon, and making them into megastars, the quintessence of why the 1980s were the worst decade for recorded music since Edison invented the phonograph. This, of course, would be Def Leppard, whose dopey Zeppelin-rip-off of a name (and silly rip-off of Judas Priest's logo font) didn't prevent it from ruling the charts with a string of abysmal hits and dominating MTV with its flashy but equally inane videos: "Photograph", "Rock of Ages", "F-f-f-foolin'", "Love Bites", "Hysteria", "Rocket", "Pour Some Sugar on Me", " Animal", and perhaps the most imbecilic one of all, "Armageddon It". If you've forgotten some of these horrific aural nightmares, then thank the Lord for the small blessings. But if you were sentient during the Reagan administration, you probably remember too many of them far too well -- the stadium-sized bombast, the thundering drums (courtesy of one-armed drummer Rick Allen, unfortunate victim of a car accident), the snickering, sophomoric sexuality, the incoherent balladry, the pouting, the teased hair, and the clothing made of Union Jacks.

All these songs and more appear on this two-disc set, though "Rocket" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" are presented in "video edits", which sound a lot like those bad '80s dance mixes where random samples plucked from the song itself are made to stutter. This package goes beyond the hits to include a number of album tracks from High and Dry and Pyromania (e.g.: "Billy's Got a Gun", "Mirror Mirror (Look into My Eyes", "Die Hard the Hunter"), 1990s singles that had no particular impact (Leppard has released several albums in the last ten years -- you, of course, remember Slang and Euphoria, right?), and a straightforward cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What".

It's important that you don't make the mistake of thinking this music has somehow become kitschy, nostalgic, or fun with the passing of time. It hasn't. But you can see the transformation Lange effected by comparing some of the later megahits with the early Leppard tracks included on this set, "Wasted" and "Rock Brigade". These modest songs are competent, riff-heavy bits of throwaway hair metal, but they stand out starkly in this collection, because of the startling humanity and vulnerability of the musicians that comes through unmistakably when contrasted with the Lange productions. In the liner notes, the Leppardians give Lange credit for teaching them the power of arrangements, and there's no doubt that Mutt is a master at extorting maximum hook potential from whatever material he tarts up. You can imagine the chorus of every song being shouted in unison in during a frat party. But more than that, he sheathes the artists he works with in an impenetrable armor of synthetic emotion and overwrought performance. And herein lies the key to the popularity of what he concocts: Because you never ever mistake what you're hearing for authentic emotion on the part of the performer, you are perfectly free to believe the songs are about yourself. They can serve as impetus for your own bathetic narcissism.

Def Leppard epitomizes Lange's formula because the members of the band themselves are so unmemorable that your recognition of their celebrity doesn't impede your experience of the song either. You don't listen to "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and imagine having broken vocalist Joe Elliot's heart, and you don't hear "Animal" and think of Screamin' Steve Clarke or Phil Collen tearing you to pieces during some savage sex session. You probably don't even know who they are. You can imagine yourself in their place effortlessly. The musicians have no personality, leaving you to luxuriate in the expansiveness of your own. So, with their histrionics and their oversized anthemic arrangements, the songs provide the impression of mammoth significance without it being tied closely to star glamour or the PR mechanics of the entertainment industry. In their absence, what seems significant is you the listener, as you vicariously experience the stock emotions Lange loves to play on.

If you listen to Rock of Ages straight through, your ears will hurt and your aesthetic sensibility will become thoroughly bruised. But you'll likely be left with a curious sort of admiration for the egoless performers behind the music, who by the end of the set's two and a half hours will have seemed to have disappeared altogether.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image