Sheffield’s own rock extraordinaries are back, with the lovably ‘70s-inspired Diamond Star Halos, their twelfth studio album, and the first in seven years. It opens with ‘Take What You Want’ – the lead single – packing one of the group’s heaviest riffs in a long time. As Elliott roars in lust-filled passion, the arena rock is instantly in full force, and proves one hell of a start to the album.
‘Kick’, meanwhile, is the most early ‘70s glam point on here, with more than a few shades of Bolan. Placing all of your singles at the start of the album is risky, but at the very least gets us off to a strong start. ‘Kick’ is one of the boys’ best songs in years – ‘I don’t wanna kick, kick, kick your habit’ – If Def Leppard is the drug in question here, then neither do I. Those ‘na, na, na’s are cheesy, but in all the best ways.
‘Fire It Up’ is by far the album’s highlight. A stadium rock anthem of old passed through one of those ‘soft’ filters you on Snapchat, it still manages to be one of the punchiest songs of the year. It’s a delectable mix of ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and the riff from Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’. Sweet.
The quasi-country, quasi-grunge (crunge?) mellows of ‘This Guitar’ is an interesting one, and sees the boys joined by seminal rock musician – and frequent collaborator of rock gods – Alison Krauss. It builds into one of the record’s more interesting songs, followed by another standout moment in ‘SOS Emergency’. Adrenalize meets the band’s 2015 eponymous release, complete with backing ‘Woah-oh!’s and crashing choruses.
‘Liquid Dust’ matches the shimmering, pop-rock delights of Euphoria, as the group showcase the highest points from across their long and broad back catalogue. ‘U Rok Mi’, equally, could very much be a Slang outtake, and what a better album it would have made – even if I do, admittedly, have a soft spot for those short-haired, proggy days.
The grand, orchestral manouevres of ‘Goodbye For Good This Time’ don’t wash with me. It sounds like it’s trying to be the sorrowful zenith of DSH but sounds like any standard ballad from Def Lep’s more recent material. ‘All We Need’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ are decent poppy rock numbers; the latter with a dragging riff echoing the group’s early 2000s years.
At this point, it should be obvious that Def Leppard are in their element when they’re stunning stadium crowds with pumping rock anthems and swaggering on all cylinders. ‘Gimme A Kiss’ is full of catchy hooks and crunchy guitar – with that honed ‘Mutt’ Lange sound of the early 1990s. It’s like something left on the cutting room floor from Bryan Adams’ Waking Up the Neighbours era. And as an avid fanboy of that album, that’s quite high praise.
I was worried that the group placing all three singles at the very start of the album would spell disaster for the second side, as a lot of albums do; starting out strong and beginning to plod along toward the end. But ‘Unbreakable’ is proof that Def Leppard refuse to submit to that same fate. It’s an album track that shakes and jives, headbangs and pumps the air with delicious, dad rock polish and just a hint of glammy glimmer.
The album’s big finish, ‘From Here to Eternity’ brings the gothic spectacle of Slang’s darker moments to the forefront, drawing Diamond Star Halos to a moody finale. ‘Can’t you see/ There’s a hole where my heart used to be/ Set me free/ From here to eternity’ – You’ve got to love that sense of dread and heartbreak which wails throughout like a banshee from the other side.
All in all, Diamond Star Halos is one of the rock group’s strongest albums in years, particularly after the fairly forgettable effort of 2015’s Def Leppard. It’s a worthy return to form, complete with nostalgic stadium fervor, blazing mainstream hooks and tender ballads. It suffers from a lack of economy, particularly in the latter half with some mediocre moments in ‘Angels (Can’t Help You Now)’ and ‘Lifeless’. But for the most part, it rocks. And what more you could ask for from Def Leppard who are still proving, decades on from Hysteria, that they’ve still got the cream?