Back when the Arctic Monkeys were but a twinkle in their fathers’ eyes, back when Jarvis Cocker was just a local eccentric teenager and back even before Phil Oakey asked two teenage girls if they wanted to be in his band, there was only one group which defined Sheffield music.
Def Leppard spearheaded the so-called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal in the late ’70s, and to this day can proudly claim to be one of just five bands who have released two separate original 10 million plus selling albums in the USA. Despite this though, they’re probably still best known as ‘that band with the one armed drummer’.
Yeah! is that most risky of projects, the covers album. Many bands have tried this, and few have been totally successful, with Duran Duran being possibly the most high profile casualty with the truly appalling Thank You a few years back. The idea behind Yeah! is that the band re-record songs that they grew up to listening to and inspired them as a teenager.
It’s a tricky proposition, as the band are obviously going to feel loyal towards the songs and not change them too much – which rather destroys the point of a cover version. The best covers are those which breathe new life into a song, and sadly Leppard treat the renditions here with a bit too much respect.
Of the songs selected here, they’re all pretty much classics that anyone with a vague interest in rock will be familiar with. Yet while numbers such as Stay With Me by The Faces and Thin Lizzy‘s Don’t Believe A Word are to be expected, there’s also a few surprises included here. Would anyone expect thost most quintessential of big haired British rockers to be fans of David Essex?
It’s these more surprising tracks that work better here. Essex seems to be going through something of a critical reappraisal these days, with an appearance on Saint Etienne‘s most recent album still fresh in the memory, and it has to be said that Rock On is a great song. Def Leppard’s version is pretty special too, starting off very subtle and synth led, before exploding into a veritable feast of riff hungry guitars by the end of the song.
Another high point is John Kongos‘ He’s Gonna Step On You Again. Although the Happy Mondays version is the one that most people these days know, Leppard’s version is rather brilliant, featuring a superb lolloping drum beat and a glorious guitar loop. The Mondays version probably remains the definitive cover, but the energy here is palapable.
Other moments aren’t as successful however. Don’t Believe A Word is almost a carbon copy of the Thin Lizzy original, right down to Joe Elliott’s Phil Lynot vocal impression, rendering the song rather pointless. 20th Century Boy is similarly faithfully adhered to, leaving the listener wondering why on earth they don’t judge dig out the original versions.
Worse is to come though, with a appallingly heavy handed rendition of one of the greatest songs ever written, Ray Davies‘ Waterloo Sunset. Featuring a somewhat misplaced squiggly guitar solo blaring all the way through the song and Elliott singing the song like a soft-rock power ballad, it’s quite, quite horrible.
Hanging On The Telephone (originally by The Nerves, but made famous by Blondie of course) is similarly massacred, but at least here there’s a morbid kind of fascination in listening to how badly a great song can be performed. Most times during the album, it’s like a full band karaoke session as old standards such as Bowie‘s Drive In Saturday or Free‘s Little Bit Of Love are wheeled out and the effect is mediocre at best.
Like most covers album, Yeah! has its moments, but while the band steer admirably clear of any self-indulgent moments, the overall feeling hanging over the whole project is ‘why bother’. These are universally great songs, but Def Leppard, for the most part, fail to breathe any new life into them.