Def Leppard’s X album was released on July 30, 2002.
Def Leppard X
Def Leppard’s X (the Roman numeral for “10,” to commemorate the band’s tenth studio album release) most likely divides fans into 3 different camps.
- Fans who love any and all new music from the band, whether it “rocks hard” or not.
- Fans who accept and appreciate any new Def Leppard album (though they’ll admit some albums miss the mark, yet don’t fault the band for trying something different).
- Fans who feel let down and disappointed when a Def Leppard album doesn’t sound like (a) On Through The Night or High ‘n’ Dry, (b) Pyromania or Hysteria, or (c) is way too poppy and borders on adult contemporary.
It’s feasible that any of the options above would have its fair share of supporters.
“X” Marks What Spot?
As mentioned in previous articles on this site spotlighting albums like Adrenalize and Slang, it’s important to keep in mind the state of the music industry — and Def Leppard’s place within it — when X was released.
The year was 2002. It had been 3 years since Euphoria, an album admittedly made in the same vein as Hysteria. (The band’s record company even considered Euphoria the final piece in the Def Leppard trilogy of massive album productions, the successor to Pyromania and Hysteria, overlooking Adrenalize altogether.)
So what was the band to do?
Release another Slang-like album and venture into a completely different musical direction again, and likely sacrificing commercial viability in the process? Or maybe attempt a more raw, harder-sounding album, harkening back to the days of High ‘n’ Dry or Pyromania?
But no matter which selection fans might have preferred, the band wasn’t looking to repeat previous efforts.
“We desperately tried to do that,” he says with a laugh. “With ‘Promises,’ I made the riff in the same key as ‘Armageddon It’ and ‘Photograph.’ It’s basically a rip-off. If another band was to do that to us, we’d go ‘Jesus Christ, let’s sue them.’ But no one noticed.”
So why not try something different post-Euphoria?
Phil differentiated the X album in the same interview:
“On this [X] record, we didn’t do that at all. This record was quite liberating. We weren’t sticking to any rigid walls or boundaries, which were done on pretty much all of the other records.”
X was a unique album but it suffered an unfortunate commercial fate due to a variety of external reasons.
Do You Wanna Get… X‘ed?
Going with another Adrenalize or Euphoria-type album wouldn’t have worked very well in 2002. The music industry was still in flux, and the band was no longer the radio or chart powerhouse it used to be.
For example, the week X debuted on the Billboard album charts, top positions were held by Bruce Springsteen, Nelly, Linkin Park, Eminem, Avril Lavigne, and so on — the days of Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, and Poison ruling the charts and battling for a top spot were long gone.
So, for Def Leppard to return to the public eye in 2002 with a song like “Let’s Get Rocked” or “Make Love Like A Man” would have satisfied some fans, but also would have done damage to the band’s brand — creatively and commercially.
Def Leppard was at a crossroads.
The band ultimately decided to try some different things and ended up with a more “mature” sounding Def Leppard album, one which also included songs from outside songwriters.
To think that Def Leppard would relinquish songwriting duties on some of their music to songwriters for artists such as Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys (and future acts like Nicki Minaj and One Direction) is definitely a little hard to fathom.
In recent years, Joe Elliott commented on how he felt about bringing in outside songwriters for the X album:
“I was completely not cool with [the idea of outside songwriters], cause I knew we were perfectly well capable of writing our own, so why would we want to do that?”
Clearly, the idea pitched to the band was to bring in outside songwriters who are “hitmakers,” who have a track record of writing songs for artists in need and “churning out” chart-topping hits.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it goes to show the amount of faith Def Leppard’s record company had in the band in the early 2000s. Though subtle, the message being given to the band was loud and clear: Def Leppard was no longer capable of putting out an album of hit songs on their own.
And even though Joe took a more diplomatic route, saying the band considered outside songwriters more of an “experiment,” and that the songs that resulted were in the spirit of one of his favorite bands, Cheap Trick, the way he ended his comment is quite telling:
“…I think the stuff we wrote on our own has the real flavor of what Def Leppard is.”
The irony in all this is none of the tracks written by or with the outside songwriters resulted in a “hit” song for the X album.
In fairness, those “experiments” didn’t hurt the album either — actually, they resulted in songs that were very worthy additions to the band’s catalog.
But Def Leppard’s X album did indeed have something working against it that hurt its chances of commercial success: a release strategy that lacked…a release strategy.
Def Leppard’s X Release Strategy…Or Lack Thereof
The band’s record company released “Now” as the X album’s first single, along with a fairly amusing music video whose storyline centered around the decades’ long journey of a Def Leppard Union Jack shirt…
On the surface (and putting aside the acting in the storyline portion), the video tells a fun tale as the Union Jack shirt is disregarded and lost over the years, goes through its share of owners, and finally resurfaces when it’s purchased via an online auction by its original owner.
Giving the concept the benefit of the doubt, you could assume the music video communicated how Def Leppard’s appeal crosses over generations.
Beneath the surface, though, the underlying themes of the video seem to portray Def Leppard’s iconic “Union Jack” (aka Pyromania) years as a novelty, hokey, a thing of the past — more specifically, in the band’s past — and not something that remained a fundamental part of Def Leppard.
Furthermore, the video seemed to showcase Def Leppard as a band no longer in its heyday, basically telling viewers and longtime fans: “We’ve grown up, matured since those silly years, and we should be taken more seriously now.”
Arguably, the “Now” video diminished Def Leppard’s image due to short-term thinking and trying to re-market the band as more “current” with the times.
Not Right “Now”
“Now” is a good, albeit straightforward, song. Its verses are effective in their delivery, and its momentum builds quite nicely to a chorus which, for better or worse, is quite un-Leppard-like.
That aside, “Now” is better off residing and thriving as an album track; it does not have — nor did it ever have — the makings of a radio-ready hit single, especially as a song to light up the charts and handle the ever-important workload of launching an album.
X marked the return of Def Leppard after a three-year-long hiatus. “Now” alone wasn’t powerful enough to reintroduce the group back onto the airwaves and reconnect with listeners and casual fans.
The band’s record company must have known this, as they didn’t even attempt to go the route of a typical single release for “Now,” instead choosing to target only rock radio stations.
So right off the bat, it was a small-scale approach.
How did that work out?
“Now” didn’t even crack the Top 25 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and barely placed on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.
From a music industry perspective, “Now” was over (figuratively speaking) before it even began.
So much for making any type of meaningful impact to launch a brand new Def Leppard album.
Even More Misfires
After “Now” quickly fizzled out (so much for building crucial momentum to coincide with the band’s X tour), it looked as if the band’s record company had already determined X would not be a hit.
The band’s excellent rocker “Four Letter Word” ended up being more of a throwaway track to AOR (album-oriented rock) stations months after “Now” had come and gone, and it lacked any type of meaningful promotional push.
As a result, “Four Letter Word” barely made a blip, even on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
What a shame.
One last-ditch, ‘Hail Mary’ effort was attempted long after X debuted and disappeared from the album charts: the band’s moody ballad “Long Long Way To Go” was finally released…nine months after X hit the streets.
“Long Long Way To Go” was more of an after-thought by this point, and it also quickly came and went, just like the X album.
Similar to Euphoria, X debuted outside of the Top 10 (#11) on Billboard‘s Album charts. And whereas an album is expected to have its typical peaks and valleys on the charts, driven by radio, marketing, and tour support, the lack of all those essential pieces cohesively working together encapsulates X‘s lifespan on the album charts: 8 very short weeks.
Incredibly, X‘s album chart positions can be summed up in one short sentence: #11 (debut week), #36, #73, #88, #122, #129, #147, #167, and then gone. Poof. Done.
X never even reached gold certification status.
X Could Have Marked The Spot Better
What’s most disappointing about Def Leppard’s X album performance is that it didn’t have to be that way — it could have had a much more effective launch and long-term promotional push.
As the band has stated, the album showcased their “many flavors”; unfortunately, that message never came across or reached the masses.
A simultaneous, multi-format radio campaign could have been much more effective, showcasing tracks off the album to different radio audiences:
- “Unbelievable” (even though the band didn’t write it, it’s an excellent track) was radio-ready, be it Top 40 or Adult Contemporary;
- “Everyday” is one of Def Leppard’s best album tracks to this day and was ready-made for album rock stations;
- “Torn to Shreds” features some of the best hooks and harmonies the band ever recorded, right up there with any of their catchiest choruses, and it deserved to be a single;
- “Four Letter Word” harkens back to the band’s High ‘n’ Dry days and would have had a much greater impact on rock stations if timed properly with an overall radio promotion strategy.
There’s no reason why various radio station formats couldn’t have been targeted simultaneously with different X tracks. It’s not a new idea, but would have effectively provided Def Leppard with coverage on radio stations across the country, raised awareness, and, more importantly, providing sustainable momentum for the X album.
Then, at that point, a power ballad like “Long, Long Way To Go” could best be timed as a single.
In simplest terms: have a plan, a 1-2 punch.
Alas, none of that was to be. (You can read a detailed breakdown of each X track here.)
X Could Have Been… X-ier
In case you weren’t aware, the X album produced a really good, yet mostly overlooked, b-side gem titled “10X Bigger Than Love.”
The track brings to mind the days of Hysteria, when Def Leppard b-sides were worthy of inclusion on an album, sometimes even better than other tracks that made the final cut.
That being said, this hard-rocking song would have added more heft to X, and would have been a good rocking counterpart to “Four Letter Word.”
That’s not to say X doesn’t have its shortfalls:
- “Let Me Be The One” would have worked better if the band went with their original piano-driven, more melodic demo version;
- “Perfect Girl” (the original — and arguably superior — version to album track “Gravity”) would’ve been a much more memorable fit.
- “You’re So Beautiful” has potential but becomes too hooky for its own good, layering hook upon hook…upon yet another hook, which ends up working against it. (The hook “overcompensation” fits the narrative of outside pressure and involvement to assure that the album contained some “hit songs.”)
All that said, there was still a lot to work with on X, yet many potentially rewarding avenues weren’t pursued.
As a result, the band and the album’s commercial success suffered, and it’s no coincidence the band ended up breaking away from their record company years later, after fulfilling their contractual album obligations.
Def Leppard’s X Is Worth Revisiting
It’s easy to dismiss the X‘s poor performance and blame its pop-lite offerings as the cause, but that would require overlooking some gems that actually reside on the album.
The album wasn’t given a proper chance to shine, or at least garner the attention it deserved, and the same can be said about Def Leppard at this point in their career.
Fortunately for them, they began taking more control over their creative (and marketing) direction, no longer letting outside influences guide (or, better yet, misguide) them.
And the success the band has enjoyed so many years since its release is a testament to their longevity and being in control of the proverbial Def Leppard reins.
Def Leppard’s X: Final Thoughts
Was X destined to achieve the same commercial heights as Def Leppard’s biggest albums? No, that’s unrealistic.
Were there many missed opportunities with how X was positioned and promoted to audiences? Absolutely!
In recent years, Joe Elliott summed up the X album this way:
“It’s not a standout album. I don’t think it’s a complete duffer [slang for ineffectual, worthless], and it’s certainly not ‘Hysteria.’ But there is some cool stuff on it.”
There certainly is, Joe.
If only more people had the chance to discover that cool stuff when it was released.