When “Slang” was originally released in 1996 Def Leppard were in a bit of a strange place, both creatively and commercially. Whereas 1992’s “Adrenalize” had been a considerable commercial hit it was really an extension of their 1987 masterpiece “Hysteria” and by singer Joe Elliot‘s own admission it came out two years too late, the rise of Nirvana and alternative rock making Elliot‘s huge mullet and songs about making love like a man seem outdated.
A rethink was in order and after the success of 1995’s ‘When Love & Hate Collide’ single (recorded for the “Vault” compilation) the band went into the studio and recorded the more stripped-down “Slang”, their first album recorded without the influence of long-time producer Mutt Lange. Reflecting the troubled private lives of various band members during that time – Elliot and drummer Rick Allen had both been arrested for assault, bassist Rick Savage had contracted Bell’s Palsy and lost his father in a short space of time and guitarist Phil Collen had gone through a divorce – “Slang” did away with the highly polished production of their previous two albums and brought everything back down to grass roots level, the band sounding like a group of musicians rather than a machine and as such, the songs sounded more natural and, for use of a better word, soulful.
The strength of “Slang” lies in the first half a dozen tracks, each one memorable and complementing the next, making the first half of the album fly by without checking the timer or reaching for the skip button. The Middle Eastern flavour of opening track “Truth?” sweeps over you and immediately banishes the cock rock leanings of their previous album, leading into an equally majestic “Turn to Dust”. The funky title track was originally the lead single and the boppy vibe and Prince-style guitar work are probably as close to the party rock of their late-80’s output as this album gets.
“Work It Out” was penned by guitarist Vivian Campbell and showed that their newest band member – “Slang” was the first new studio album the guitarist had worked on with the band – could help bring a little more edge to their songwriting whilst maintaining their trademark melodic style. Joe Elliot‘s ballad “All I Want is Everything” has a more intimate singer/songwriter feel and doesn’t come across as syrupy as power ballads like ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’ or ‘Love Bites’.
However, the second half of the album doesn’t flow as strongly as the first, with tracks like ‘Deliver Me’ and ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies’ not being out and out duffers but not staying in the memory after the album has finished. Included on the first disc with the remastered album are a few bonus tracks that didn’t make the original release, and whilst there is a school of thought that suggests the reason tracks don’t get included is because they’re not good enough, ‘Move With Me Slowly” (originally a Japan-only track) is a solid rocker that just doesn’t have quite the same introspective vibe as the rest of the album.
The second disc includes demos and early versions of “Slang” tracks and, like most supplementary material, none of it is essential but there are some interesting takes on familiar songs, like ‘Raise Your Love’ which is an early version of ‘Slang’ with different lyrics. Phil Collen lends his vocal talents to an early cut of ‘Gift of Flesh’, which doesn’t benefit the song any more other than lending it a different dynamic, whilst some of the rough mixes have a thicker, rougher guitar sound that makes the songs heavier than anything the band’s contemporaries in Iron Maiden were doing at the time.
There was a period in the 1990s when certain bands would often be accused of “going grunge”, i.e. cutting their hair, wearing a t-shirt and jeans rather than a ‘costume’, doing away with fancy effects and toning everything down to fall in with the Seattle bands. Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe fell foul of this (and just about got away with it) along with other artists like Bruce Dickinson (remember the “Skunkworks” album?), Metallica (“Load”) and even Megadeth (“Risk”) who seemed to get caught up in the whirlwind because of drastic changes of direction. “Slang” has been referred to as Def Leppard‘s “grunge album” in the past but that is an easy and lazy accusation to make; the band needed to make that change in order to survive in a decade that didn’t belong to them and “Slang” does have a handful of catchy hard rock songs that have stood up over the course of time and sound as fresh today as they did when they first came out, unlike some other more notable songs from the band’s catalogue that have dated terribly (“Do you wanna get rocked…” anybody?). The band back-tracked a bit with their following album – 1999’s “Euphoria” – by recruiting Mutt Lange to co-write some songs and returning to their glam rock influences but it is “Slang” that remains the most interesting and underrated album of their career, and this expanded edition is worth shelling out on if you don’t already own it, although whether you wish to splash out on it again if you already have it depends on your need for demos, outtakes and songs that didn’t make the original cut. The choice is yours.