Under the influence

MIKE ROSS

, Last Updated: 4:34 PM ET

September 5, 1996 By MIKE ROSS --

If you're going to have a row in a hotel room, says Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, "make sure the doors are locked so no one can hear you."

Sage advice from a man who unwittingly found himself on the wrong side of the law in Los Angeles in May, when he and his girlfriend Bobbie Tolsma were both arrested and charged with assault. Charges were dropped the next day.

The singer is on the phone from a hotel room in Oklahoma City, frantically packing for the next jump on the band's Slang tour. It hits the Edmonton Coliseum Saturday.

"There was no domestic abuse involved," says Elliott. "The whole thing was ..."

"Bull----," interupts a female voice in the background.

"Thank you, dear."

And so, no Def Leppard controversy after all.

Blast! We so wanted one, too. Even the fact that the first record Elliott ever bought was the Archies' Sugar Sugar is no big deal. The man has no shame.

"I've never hidden it," he says defiantly, adding that one can't help what music one grows up on. As a teen in Sheffield, England, he and his mates had only the BBC for radio, which relegated rock music to two hours per week.

"Luckily," Elliott recalls, "in 1972, pop music was basically what rock music is now. You have Bowie, Sweet, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, Slade, Alice Cooper, Gary Glitter - guitar-based pop songs. They are very much part of what we do."

Def Leppard continues to be influenced by music around it. Take the new album Slang, for instance, almost a funhouse mirror of what's hot in the '90s. Elliott even admits "we completely took Trent Reznor's blueprint and stole it" for the lead-off track Truth.

"We've always tried to make modern records," Elliott says.

"In 1987, when we released Hysteria, it represented what modern was then. And Slang represents what modern is in 1996."

Some critics might call this opportunistic - which hits a nerve with the 36-year-old singer.

"For anybody to accuse us of jumping on the bandwagon is a little bit narrow-minded and short-sighted journalism. We've never jumped on any bandwagons. We've just grown up, matured and moved on - with just the knowledge to realize that you can't make a record like Hysteria in the year 1996 and expect any kind of success with it, because that's just not in vogue right now.

"We've never jumped on bandwagons - we've actually created some. With Pyromania and Hysteria, we genuinely think that we rewrote the rule book on how to make rock records."

As for Slang, on which longtime producer Mutt Lange (the "sixth Lep") is nowhere in sight, "We're very happy with the direction that we've taken. It's basically reinventing yourself. We don't expect instant success with this record. We're glad of the success that we've had from it so far, but it's going to be a long haul.

"At this point in our career, you gotta do something real positive, otherwise you could end up becoming one of these nostalgia acts or, God forbid, the Nazareth of the '90s.

"For what we've been through, for the amount of time we've been around and the success that we've had, we deserve the opportunity that will be afforded to bands like U2 and REM, that came up with the same sound that we did."

During an interview in 1992, guitarist Vivian Campbell called Def Leppard "pop writers in a hard-rock guise."

Elliott gives his impression: "This is a rock band with pop sensibilities that's never been afraid to use the word `love' - which I'm sure Ronnie Dio would never do."


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