Leppard changes spots

DAVE VEITCH

, Last Updated: 4:34 PM ET

Sometimes Joe Elliott feels he just can't win.

"For the longest time," says the lead singer of British rock group Def Leppard, "your brothers and sisters in the media have accused us of never evolving and never changing. And the second we do, they don't want to know about it."

Elliott, 39, is referring to the fate of the Leps' 1996 album Slang, which found the quintet moving beyond their patented arena-rock sound to incorporate everything from Eastern influences to funk. Successfully, too.

But Slang only shifted two million units, a far cry from the band's heyday when 1983's Pyromania and its 1987 followup Hysteria sold a total of 22 million copies.

"I still love that record (Slang)," says Elliott, whose band plays Rockfest '99 tomorrow at Labatt Raceway in Nisku, just outside of Edmonton. "I just feel the album was never really given a chance."

To quote one of Elliott's favourite Ian Hunter songs, one bitten twice shy. Last month, Def Leppard returned to record stores shelves with Euphoria, a return to their pre-Slang form.

Back again are the melodic, big-riffed rockers that were the band's bread-and-butter throughout the '80s and early '90s, as well as Pyromania/Hysteria producer Robert (Mutt) Lange, who co-writes a couple tracks including the first single, Promises.

"I'm not trying to backtrack or cover up any evidence," the singer says, "but we always said that (Slang) is something we needed to get out of our system. We never said this is the way we're going for the rest of our lives." With Euphoria, Elliott says the band -- drummer Rick Allen, bassist Rick Savage and guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell -- opted for a "classic-sounding Leppard record."

Reteaming with Lange for the first time since 1991 was quite a coup, given he's been busy producing and co-writing music for his wife, country music superstar Shania Twain. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of Twain's songs would fit snugly in the Def Lep songbook. Elliott laughs.

"I thought the same thing.... I thought (Twain's hit Any Man of Mine) sounded just like Pour Some Sugar on Me with fiddles rather than guitars," he says.

"It has the We Will Rock You, stomping drum thing. It's got that da-da-da thing that we've used a million times in the bridge into the chorus."

Talk to Elliott long enough and you'll realize he's something of an expert in '70s British rock, with a particular fondness for glam. ("I would have willingly put mascara on," he reveals when asked if he would have liked a cameo in last year's Velvet Goldmine, filmmaker Todd Hayne's loving tribute to the glam-rock era.)

On Euphoria, those influences surface in the Glitter Band-inspired Back In Your Face and the Marc Bolanesque 21st Century Sha La La La Girl. As well, several new Leppard originals sport previously used titles: Paper Sun (Traffic), Demolition Man (The Police) and Day After Day (Badfinger).

Surely, the Leps are winking at fellow British music lovers.

"Funny you should mention that," Elliott replies.

"When we did Pyromania, we did two songs that had the same titles as Band songs: Stage Fright and Rock of Ages, which were pointed out to me afterwards. I was never into The Band.

"But it's not that we're consciously stealing," he continues, sounding more defensive than he should.

"What we're doing is not giving a (bleep) that it is a phrase that has been used before.... That's what songs are -- a collection of people's own cliches put to rhyme, really."


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