Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DEF LEPPARD "Mirrorball: Live & More"



(c) 2011 Mailboat Records
DISC 1
  1. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
  2. Rocket
  3. Animal
  4. C'Mon, C'Mon
  5. Make Love Like A Man
  6. Too Late For Love
  7. Foolin'
  8. Nine Lives
  9. Love Bites
  10. Rock On
DISC 2
  1. Two Steps Behind
  2. Bringin' On The Heartbreak
  3. Switch 625
  4. Hysteria
  5. Armageddon It
  6. Photograph
  7. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  8. Rock Of Ages
  9. Let's Get Rocked
  10. Action
  11. Bad Actress
  12. Undefeated (Studio)
  13. Kings Of The World (Studio)
  14. It's All About Believin' (Studio)
Joe Elliott--Vocals
Rick Savage--Bass, Backing Vocals
Phil Collen--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Rick Allen--Drums, Backing Vocals
Vivian Campbell--Guitars, Backing Vocals

It has taken over 30 years to get here, but Def Leppard has finally released an official live album.  Sure, there are almost countless bootlegs out there, some quality sounding, some terrible.  There was also the bonus live disc included in the reissue of Hysteria, but that was a fairly limited effort in terms of the set list.  Prior to this one, though, there has not been a full, comprehensive live release that the band has fully endorsed and was fully aware that they were being recorded for, which, in all fairness, can make a world of difference in terms of quality.

Featuring 21 live songs culled from the most commercial section of the band's catalog, Mirrorball is a somewhat blurry snapshot of one of the most storied hard rock/heavy metal bands in history (don't tell Joe I called them a hard rock/heavy metal band!).  As one might expect, there are no songs from On Through The Night in this collection, and only an acoustic, fan-accompanied version of "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" and the instrumental "Switch 625" from High N Dry.  Much less surprising, I'm sure, is the exclusion of any material from Slang, and Euphoria is, to my surprise, also completely unrepresented, as is X.  So that leaves us, predictably, with a set that is almost exclusively pulled off of Pyromania, Hysteria, Adrenalize, and even Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, which many people rate as at least the second worst (behind Slang for many) album in the DefLep catalog. 

Disc 1 starts off impressively enough, with a very solid sounding version of "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)", followed by a very good effort on "Rocket", and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Joe's voice holding up so well on these classic tracks.  Much has been made over the past few years of the fact that Joe is now a studio-only singer, meaning that enough editing and effects are used to accomplish his trademark sound that there is no way he can pull it off live.  Well, at least for most of the disc, Joe proves the critics wrong.  In fact, on the old, classic material, Joe sounds pretty good, especially on Disc 1, when his voice is still fresh. The backing vocals are TERRIBLE in places, however...and I mean just that...terrible. On higher-pitched songs, it is obvious Joe has lost range, but not vocal power, such as on "Love Bites" where the band very obviously shifts the chorus to a lower register...it is plain as day when you hear it.  However, later on this disc when he performs songs such as "Nine Lives", which were recorded with his newer vocal limitations in mind, he sounds almost note perfect.  I was kind of surprised to hear the disc close with the popular signle and video cover track "Rock On", not because it is a bad song, but simply because it was not one of their own.  A minor thing, I realize, but when you combine it with the outset of Disc 2, I think it makes it a bit more of an oddity. 

Disc 2 starts off oddly with a ballad...actually two consecutive ballads...with "Two Steps Behind" and "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" and then an instrumental, "Switch 625".  All three are pulled off nicely, and as I mentioned earlier, "...Heartbreak" is given the fan-participation treatment during an all-acoustic rendering of this popular song.  I'm not sure if the band did this to keep the set list 100% accurate from their performances or if the label didn't think about the tracking order when they decided where to stop Disc 1 and start Disc 2.  A solid "Rock Of Ages" and "Let's Get Rocked" round out the set-list before what I am assuming was the encore, which is referred to as "BONUS LIVE" on the tray insert.  Here the band returns with a hit and a total obscurity to close the set, with "Action" taken from Retroactive, followed by the out-of-left-field "Bad Actress".  While "Bad Actress" is one of the hardest songs the band has performed in years, it was still a bizarre choice for a live closer, in my opinion.

Musically, the live material is exceptionally well-performed and the band sounds energetic and tight throughout. I have no idea how much is touched up or re-recorded in the studio, but this is a very professional sounding recording.  The band is exceptionally well-oiled on the Pyromania and Hysteria material which one has to assume they have played thousands of times by now.  "Rocket", "Animal", "Hysteria", and "Armageddon It" are played almost note-for-note as you remember them, but, I was really surprised that the band did virtually nothing different to the massively popular "Pour Some Sugar On Me" which is usually tinkered with to incorporate crowd response.  As previously mentioned, "Love Bites" struggles a bit vocally but still sounds pretty close musically.  "Foolin'" and "Rock Of Ages" work particularly well here, while "Photograph" sounded just a bit off to me for some reason, but not terrible.  It is obvious, however, that Joe's voice is starting to lose some punch by this time in the show, especially on the higher notes in the chorus. 

The set-list is solid, but several fan faves (including mine) are  missing, most notably "Women" and "Gods Of War" from Hysteria, "Now" and "Long Long Way To Go" (both from X), "Slang", "Have You Ever Needed Someone" from Adrenalize, "Paper Sun" and "Promises" from Euphoria, and "Billy's Got A Gun" from Pyromania, which they haven't played live in years...maybe even decades. The inclusion of a couple of tracks from Sparkle Lounge kept the set current, as did the inclusion of the cover of "Rock On".

Great Live CD set? I don't think I'd use the term "great". Very good....that's more like it. It's just unfortunate it took so many years for a proper live album to be released by this legendary band because anyone who says that this is the "best I have ever heard Leppard sound live" has either been to some bad shows or is lying to themselves. Personally, I wish they would have recorded the entire Hysteria or Adrenalize tours as the sets were every bit as solid, Joe had a stronger, fuller range at the time, and the backing vocals (which many claim were canned) were MUCH stronger.

Now...how about those new songs?  Well, I think they are some of the best material Leppard has recorded in years.  "Undefeated" is a big rock anthem which starts off with a thundering drum beat and some group shouts before kicking in with the guitars and lyrics in a manner that is not all that far removed from "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  "Kings Of The World" is a piano-based ballad that has a definite Queen feel to it, almost to the point of sounding like a Queen cover (even throwing in Queen lyrical referencess such as "princes of the universe").  Not my favorite of the new material, but definitely not terrible.  Hopefully it grows on me.  Disc closer, "It's All About Believin'" finds the boys rocking one more time, but the guitar tone is cleaner, with less distortion, and the band's pop sensibilities are on display here.  This song has Hysteria qualities to it and would likely have been another hit had it been released from that disc in that era.  As I mentioned earlier, it is apparent Joe's voice doesn't have all the range it did at one time, but when they are in the studio, the band caters to his limitations and the songs don't suffer because of this.  As a result, I would suspect that these three songs would all work in the live setting.

Also included is a DVD which features a "behind the scenes" feature from the Sparkle Lounge Tour of 2008, four live songs (all of which are also on the CD's), and two studio videos for "Nine Lives" and "C'Mon C'Mon".
All of this is packaged with a nice booklet of pictures, thank yous, and writing credits in an actual double jewel case!  When was the last time you held one of those in your hands?!  That case gave this release even more of a retro feel for me.

Rating:  It's generally tough for me to rate live albums, as I am not a massive fan, but this entire set merits being rocked at a 6.5.  If the backing vocals had been better on so many of these songs, you could have cranked this to an easy 7.5 or so...but those backing vox ruin a couple of classics for me.

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