Def Leppard’s underrated Slang album was released nearly a quarter of a century ago!
Original U.S. release date: May 14, 1996
Def Leppard’s Slang: A Sign Of The Times
Other than On Through The Night, Slang is likely Def Leppard’s most polarizing album.
Upon its release, it was hard for some fans to grasp that Slang didn’t sound at all like Def Leppard’s previous albums. At. All.
Where were the anthemic, arena-rocking, chorus-chanting, “sugar”-for-the-ears songs? And — gasp! — not even a power-ballad? Is that even possible?!?
With the arrival of Slang, it was.
Grunge was in full effect around this time, and for many radio stations and “previous” fans — as ridiculous as it may sound — it became cool to no longer like Def Leppard’s music.
The band was in a no-win situation: if they were to release an album with “Pour Some Sugar On Me” types of songs, many would say they were stuck in the ’80s and out of touch; if they went in a grunge direction, they’d be accused of copying the bands who were enjoying (aka stealing) the spotlight Def Leppard used to have.
Basically, damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
When Adrenalize was released in 1992, change was already in the air as many radio stations that used to play Def Leppard’s music were switching formats, and the groundswell from grunge was bubbling up fast — yet Adrenalize was still able to break through (along with a massive tour to help support the release).
But by the time of Slang‘s release in 1996, music preferences and the overall industry had drastically changed.
Large segments of the band’s “casual” fans from the late ’80s — for example, those who were still in high school at the time, who ran out and bought Hysteria on CD after their cassette version wore out, and rediscovered the rest of the band’s catalog in the process — completely changed their musical tastes and simply lost interest.
They preferred bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. Def Leppard? Umm, no.
That was the landscape Def Leppard was up against during the mid-’90s.
In addition, it was a challenging time for band members on a personal level, as hardships and life changes inevitably had to be dealt with. Rick Savage had been diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy disease between the Adrenalize and Slang releases; his father had also passed away. Joe Elliott, Rick Allen, and Phil Collen also had their share of marital/personal issues.
For better or worse, Joe Elliott described Slang as the album that brought “life into the equation.”
All I Ever Wanna Get Is…Slang?!?
Promoting the Slang album was a whole other story.
There were radio stations that figuratively (and literally) turned their backs on the band’s music, and no longer had any interest in playing anything resembling Def Leppard’s brand of music.
As for those radio stations that still played “rock” at the time, well, Def Leppard wasn’t the type of rock music their listeners wanted to hear anymore.
The situation was all the more challenging when the band’s record company didn’t have immediate radio-friendly hit singles to choose from right off the bat — there was no sequel to”Pour Some Sugar On Me,” no tongue-in-cheek sing-alongs like “Make Love Like A Man” or “Armageddon It.”
On top of that, Slang featured a stripped-down production — it wasn’t recorded in a typical recording studio but a private house in Marbella, Spain. Rick Allen used an acoustic drum kit; Mutt Lange had no involvement either.
There wasn’t even an album cover typically bursting with colors courtesy of artist extraordinaire Andie Airfix!
But this was all done intentionally.
The band knew the album was completely different from every other (aka commercially successful) Def Leppard album.
How much so?
The band joked that Slang‘s original working album title was “Commercial Suicide.”
But it was the right approach.
“We couldn’t just go out there and make an album sounding like Nirvana. That’d be ridiculous. That would have been like cashing in, bandwagon-style. But what we did do is just strip back a lot of the harmony stuff and just made a much more lyrically honest record.”
Def Leppard: Slang Strategy
Similar to Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, most of Slang‘s songs were written by one or two band members.
Surprisingly, “Work It Out” was chosen as the album’s first single (in years past, it would have been considered more of an album track).
The song was solely written by Vivian Campbell — not the usual Joe, Sav, Phil (and Mutt Lange) collaboration.
Vivian’s original version of “Work It Out” was “Leppard-ized” (to an extent), but it still had a different sound and vibe than what Def Leppard fans were accustomed to.
As you can read in the Def Leppard Report’s Slang album ranking, the radio strategy for “Work It Out” was unconventional: the song was played for station program directors WITHOUT telling them that it was Def Leppard — just let the music (and Joe Elliott’s unrecognizable Iggy Pop-like vocals) do the talking.
Ultimately, some radio stations did support the song, but it didn’t result in the typical heavy rotation the band enjoyed so often in the past.
The band’s music videos supporting the album also had a somber feel.
The “Work It Out” video had a more serious look and feel, while “All I Want Is Everything” was in the vein of the band’s darker “Tonight” music video (inter-cutting shots of the band with moody storytelling).
The song “Slang” had a more playful, almost kinetic, music video…which was mostly enjoyed by international audiences, not in the U.S. (You can view all the band’s videos in the Def Leppard Report Music Video section.)
By the way, in case you’re interested in adding a Def Leppard Slang t-shirt to your wardrobe, it’s available — click on the shirt below to view its Amazon page:
The “usual” press outlets that normally would have promoted the heck out of a new Def Leppard album just weren’t as willing anymore either.
MTV was no longer a viable, promotional outlet either — Slang got a fraction of the coverage the band used to receive for an album release.
The band did appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to perform “Work It Out” (surprisingly, Def Leppard’s first appearance on the show), but promotional opportunities were still far and few.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of interest and coverage elsewhere around the world.
There were some great, interesting interviews with the band that promoted the release…
…but as you can see from the picture (and subtitles) above, just not in the United States.
There was a fantastic program featuring the band discussing the album, answering fan questions, showing tour rehearsal footage, in addition to multiple interview segments. And I do mean MULTIPLE — segments featured Joe and Sav…
…Joe and Phil…
…Joe and Rick…
…Joe and Vivian…
…and even the entire band together…
…along with Slang tour rehearsal footage…
This great promotional opportunity for the album aired on MTV…in Europe.
In case you’re interested in watching the MTV Europe Slang special when you have the time, here you go:
Def Leppard Slang Sales
The album debuted at #14 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart, selling 59,500 units its first week — a far cry from the 380,000 units Adrenalize sold in week one. (To put things further into perspective, Adrenalize sold over 100,000 units in EACH of its first six weeks of release!)
But the fact that Def Leppard was still able to have a Top 15 album debut during the mid-’90s — with so much less radio and press willing to support it — was a feat in itself.
Ultimately, Slang was certified gold (sold over 500,000 units).
Def Leppard also released a Slang deluxe edition in 2014 and loaded it up with bonus tracks — demos, alternate versions, and more. The reissue provided a great opportunity for the band to spotlight and reflect on a release that just never seemed to get its due.
Slang In Hindsight
It’s a shame many casual fans abandoned Def Leppard’s music around the time of Slang, or simply didn’t give the album a fair chance.
They missed out on some excellent compositions and some of the band’s most raw, mature work.
The album included some incredible songs — “All I Want Is Everything” featured some of Joe Elliott’s best songwriting (and vocals); the same can be said for “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” and “Blood Runs Cold” (which Joe co-wrote with Phil Collen).
Other standout tracks that still hold their own include “Turn to Dust” and “Pearl of Euphoria.”
Decades after its release, Slang could feasibly be interpreted as a concept album — not only representing the challenging music climate of the mid-90s, but also as Def Leppard’s musical manifesto to the industry and fans who had dismissed them and moved on…but that’s a story for another time.
In the meantime, you can read a complete breakdown and ranking for all of Slang‘s songs here.
Here’s how Joe Elliott poignantly summed up the response to Slang:
“Some people think it’s the best thing we ever did, some people think it’s the worst thing we ever did.”
Which one is it?
That’s up to you.
But in the end, Slang was the right album at the right time.