Leppard fans are still turning a Def ear

By John Nemo Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) Please, whatever you do, don’t lump Joe Elliott’s group with the rest of those 1980s hard-rock/heavy-metal bands clogging up clubs and small theaters around the country with nostalgia tours. “I would hate to be called a nostalgia act,” said Elliott, lead singer for Def Leppard. The English rockers were one of the most successful hair bands of the late `80s, towering above the scene thanks to 1987’s “Hysteria,” an album that sold 16 million copies. But before you assume Def Leppard is another one of those groups that hasn’t put out a new album since 1989 and is still touring on the strength of songs that were popular back when mullets and Trans Ams ruled the day, listen to Elliott. “For one thing, we’re still creating and playing new and original material,” he said, talking on his cell phone before a gig in Detroit last week. “We’ve put out albums in 2002, 1999, 1996 … we’re still putting out records and touring. And we’re not playing small clubs. We’re playing arenas and large theaters.” Def Leppard still has a huge fan base, as evidenced by ticket sales for the band’s current tour. The group has already sold out three straight nights later this month at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Def Leppard is on the road again in support of “X,” the band’s 10th studio album. Elliott, who started Def Leppard in 1977 with bassist Ric Savage inside a Sheffield, England, spoon factory, said the group has no plans to slow down. “I never put a time on anything,” Elliott said. “When it feels unnatural, it will just come to its natural end. There’s no way we’ll take it out on the road for nostalgia’s sake and just milk it for all it’s worth.” Elliott said Def Leppard spent weeks before this tour rehearsing 35 songs, including all the tunes from “X” and at least one song from every other album the band has put out. The band then picks 23-25 songs from that pool to play at each concert, with the set list changing every night. “Of course, when we get into the home stretch of a show, there are certain songs … I don’t want to say we have to play them because we don’t, but there are certain songs we will play, like `Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ because we enjoy playing them,” Elliott said. “And we don’t want to disappoint people.” “X,” the fourth album written by the band’s current lineup of Elliott, Savage, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell and drummer Rick Allen, has done anything but disappoint. Critics across the country have lauded it as a guilty pleasure, comparing “X” to “Hysteria,” which spawned megahits like “Animal,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rocket.” “The critical reception of `X’ has been more than we have expected,” Elliott said. “But in this business, for every good review there’s a bad one. I still remember when `Hysteria’ came out, it got many more bad reviews than good ones. And look at how well that one sold. So I think the biggest thing is getting the songs on the radio so people can hear the music themselves and make up their own minds about an album.” While they went back to their trademark 1980s sound _ blazing guitars, fist-pumping, shout-along choruses and screeching vocal harmonies _ in making “X,” Def Leppard also gave a nod toward the present. The new album’s signature ballad, “Unbelievable,” was written by the Swedish songwriting team of Max Martin, Andreas Carlsson and Per Alderheim, a trio that has penned hits for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and N’Sync. Martin and company also wrote “It’s My Life,” the pop-rock smash that re-ignited the sputtering rockets of late `80s relic Bon Jovi a few years back. “Those guys were all in rock bands in the 1980s that didn’t quite make it. They have their heart and soul in rock. They just happened to get their big break working with Britney.” Def Leppard no longer needs a big break to be declared a commercial success, having sold more than 45 million albums since the band started in 1977. “We just roll along, doing our thing, and everybody seems to be enjoying it,” Elliott said. “We all still create and have energy and get a buzz from working together. “As long as it keeps happening, and there’s a decent fan base out there that wants to hear it, we’ll be happy to keep going.” ___ ‘copy 2003, Saint Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.). Visit the World Wide Web site of the Pioneer Press at http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.