Def Leppard's Drastic Symphonies: You know the songs, but you’ve never heard them like this

Def Leppard go orchestral on Drastic Symphonies: treading water has never sounded so legacy-enhancing

Def Leppard: Drastic Symphonies cover art
(Image: © Bludgeon Riffola Limited)

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Still capable of reaching the Top 10 in the charts in both the UK and the US, Def Leppard glide along like the most stately of rock galleons. Last year’s Diamond Star Halos album was a rip-roaring restatement of intent. And after such a great Leppard album, the question ‘What next?’ loomed large. Many other bands and artists who’ve been making records since 1980 would cruise at this point, but, as we know, the Stakhanovites of Def Leppard are not as others. 

Instead they’ve taken a frankly unappetising detour down the orchestral route. But we needn’t have worried. This being Leppard, they’ve done it properly, so it’s the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road, rather than some chancers in Joe’s garage. The song selection is smart, from as far back as 1981’s High’N’Dry (the instrumental Switch 625 almost roars) to a couple of selections from Halos

Of the studio albums, only On Through The Night, X, Yeah! and Def Leppard are passed over, which seems about right. Among the 16 songs there are hits – Pour Some Sugar On Me, When Love & Hate Collide, their only US No.1, Love Bites – but this is no ‘greatest hits’, hence the exhumation of some less heralded gems, such as Kings Of The World and Slang track Love

At first glance, then, instead it seems to be a career-spanning resumé of what might work best in this setting. So far, so ho-hum. One of the joys of the album is that it’s not quite so predictable. It turns out that what ‘works best’ is a moveable feast: Drastic Symphonies works best when there’s re-invention; Pour Some Sugar On Me is one of several tracks for which Joe Elliott has re-done his vocals.

Now, it’s a snail’s-paced duet with Emm Gryner (of both Leppard support act Trapper and David Bowie’s band). Once lascivious – even when the band played it with Taylor Swift – Elliott and Gryner turn it inside out, and the version here is a rueful lament. Always diligent guardians of their catalogue, Leppard are enhancing it here. 

Some of producer Mutt Lange’s layers have been sacrificed in order to de-clutter and accommodate the orchestra, but there are additions too. There’s a new guitar backdrop to the timpani-fest that is now Animal. And when in the third verse of Too Late For Love (which briefly threatens to break into Carmina Burana), the Joe Elliott of 2023 duets with the Joe Elliott of 1983 it’s spine tingling. It’s treading water, of course. But the joy of Drastic Symphonies is that it doesn’t sound at all like treading water.

John Aizlewood

As well as Classic Rock, John Aizlewood currently writes for The Times, The Radio Times, The Sunday Times, The i Newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and Mojo amongst others.  He’s written four books and appears on television quite often. He once sang with Iron Maiden at a football stadium in Brazil: he wasn’t asked back. He’s still not sure whether Enver Hoxha killed Mehmet Shehu…