Def Leppard (With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) – Drastic Symphonies
Release Date: 19/05/23
Running Time: 01:12:00
Review by Simon Black
I suppose it had to happen eventually. There was a splurge of Rock and Metal bands collaborating with orchestras at the dawn of the century, ever since Michael Kamen talked Metallica into doing the original “S&M” project in 1999 (although Deep Purple actually started that particular ball rolling in 1969) and for a few years it seemed like everybody was at it. So I was all ready to go a bit medieval here, because do we really need another one of these ageing rock bands sitting with an orchestra?
First off, this is a bit different from the bulk of such projects. These usually come in a live format at a venue whose only previous brush with mayhem is when they host their annual panto (which ironically is the event in the calendar that funds everything else more artistic for the rest of the year). These often see the bemused band centre stage wondering if this is going to work, surrounded by between fifty to a hundred slightly equally bemused classical musicians, some even incrementally more bemused Rock fans not sure how nuts they are allowed to go in the nice upholstered seating and finally the venue season ticket holders who haven’t a clue what’s about to hit them, who have gone so far beyond bemused and straight to total panic and wondering if they should have brought ear defenders or stayed at home and listened to the Shippping Forecast. Actually, ear protection is probably a good idea anyway as a one-hundred-piece orchestra in a venue with near perfect acoustics is up there with a Motörhead gig for decibel damage on the old lug holes. Loud don’t come into it, baby…
Grandma needn’t worry about turning her hearing aid down here though, as this is a studio project. Neither is it a completely new set of recordings. The orchestra clearly is all recently laid down (at Abbey Road studios which is one of the few big enough), but Sheffield, Belfast and London’s finest have taken a hybrid approach with their own contributions. In some cases, the original recordings have been used – remastered and remixed, with new parts and layers added in. Unusually, they’ve not been afraid to strip out some of the conventional Rock sounds in order to not drown the orchestra out. Given that so much of Def Leppard’s hit machine in the 1980’s was driven by some quite orchestral arrangements courtesy of producer Mutt Lange anyway, the only question is why have they waited so long?
Part Greatest Hits package, part lavish remix and master, the unexpected consequence is a sound that actually takes you by surprise a lot of the time. Now transposing some of the syrupier ballads from the “Hysteria” era and replacing the electronica with orchestration does sound like the sort of thing that might have been used to pad out the B side of a 12” extended version single in 1987 (which is exactly how that particular song comes out given that it retains the drum machine sound from the original recording), but the surprise comes when they totally change the approach. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ as a stripped back acoustic duet shouldn’t work, but it does and the slowed down version of ‘Animal’ actually makes the song bearable. It’s a brave decision to mix the old and the new in this way, particularly when Joe Elliot is duetting with a version of himself with vocal chords some thirty-five years younger, but what jumps out loud and proud is that these songs actually really work with this format.
Then there’s the inevitable consequence of adding a large fat orchestra to tracks that are pretty bombastic anyway, and for my money ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Bringing On The Heartache’ each sound about ten times better like this. Although I do have to ask, where the **** is ‘Rock Of Ages’, which seems like a really gaping omission (although I suspect that this is a practical reality brought about by the age and quality of the original recording and perhaps a reluctance to re-record Steve Clark’s parts).
I didn’t want to like this anymore than I did some of their more commercial albums back in the day, but they creep up on you because at the end of the day these chaps really knew how to write some absolutely belting tracks and have clearly fallen in love with them all over again. They might not be alone…
‘Hysteria’ Official Visualizer
01. Turn To Dust
02. Paper Sun
04. Pour Some Sugar On Me
06. Love Bites
07. Goodbye For Good This Time
09. Gods Of War
10. Angels (Can’t Help You Now)
11. Bringin’ On The Heartache
12. Switch 625
13. Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad
14. Too Late For Love
15. When Love & Hate Collide
16. Kings Of The World
Rick Savage – Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals, Occasional Rhythm Guitar, Keyboards, Piano
Rick Allen – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Phil Collen – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Vivian Campbell – Guitars, Backing Vocals
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