Def Leppard
Retro Active


3.5
great

Review

by Davey Boy STAFF
May 15th, 2009 | 118 replies | 11,464 views


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A pleasant surprise, this collection of B-Sides and tidbits uses relatively organic production and a wise balance of song types to its advantage.

Compilations containing B-Sides and other tidbits are often – practically by definition – such a mixed bag that they fail to flow cohesively… No matter how great the artist is. The format typically favors certain performers over others, with those bands prone to experimentation usually having some hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Def Leppard are not that kind of band and since it took them nine years to make their previous two albums, such a release was merely seen as a way to technically avoid making their devoted fanbase wait so long for another album. How pleasantly surprising it is then, to discover that ‘Retro Active’ is actually a very good LP that stands well on its own.

Initial signs are unimpressive with the opening ‘Desert Song’ being an unsuccessful attempt at an atmospheric five minute epic that is only distinguished by a half-decent solo. The following ‘Fractured Love’ then begins atypically sparse with only marching-band like drums, faint hints of guitar and Joe Elliott’s whispered vocals for two minutes, before morphing into a solid, if disappointingly unimaginative, cut. Thankfully, any doubts as to the appeal of ‘Retro Active’ are soon put to rest as the album literally explodes into (pardon the pun) action.

For a portion of their career, it seemed that Def Leppard were attempting to distance themselves from the glam scene, which their sound had occasionally hinted at. At the very least, their personal taste for the scene is confirmed here with two covers both falling under that category. The first is of Sweet’s classic; ‘Action’. From its excellent beginning consisting of near-perfectly produced layered guitars, to the involving sing-along chorus, the English quintet hit the spot here and add just enough of their own slant to make this a resounding success. Mick Ronson’s ‘Only After Dark’ is also given the Def Leppard treatment, if not quite as successfully.

From the mid 80s to early 90s, Def Leppard practically perfected the power ballad. Tracks such as ‘Love Bites’, ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’ drew in fans by the masses. However, the band realized that they couldn’t exactly fill ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Adrenalize’ with such cuts, resulting in a couple of excellent left-overs appearing here.

Containing a chorus which is sure to be ingrained into minds long after it is heard, ‘Two Steps Behind’ – an acoustic strings-assisted ballad which was used in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Last Action Hero’ film – showcases the fantastic interplay between Elliott and the backing vocals, a trait which has become one of the major attributes of the band. Furthermore, the Phil Collen penned piano ballad ‘Miss You In A Heartbeat’, will also tug at the emotional heart-strings, even if some listeners could find it a touch too corny due to the background “woo woos” in its chorus.

As with most compilations of this kind, there is usually one revelation that comes from out of left field and borderline shocks listeners. In the case of ‘Retro Active’, it is track 9 ‘From The Inside’. A folky piece which is brilliantly put together, the cut contains unconventional instruments such as a mandolin, a grand piano and even a tin whistle! Written from the perspective of an addictive drug, lyrics such as “I’ll mess up your life, I’ll beat up your wife, I’ll lose all your friends and I’ll win in the end”, are masterfully delivered by Elliott’s impeccably controlled vocals which add a different sense of melody to what this kind of song would usually include.

Even the perceived filler of ‘Retro Active’ is rather good. ‘Ride Into The Sun’ has been deservedly re-recorded (complete with an unnecessary piano intro) and given the production levels it deserves some 15 years after its appearance on the band’s debut EP. ‘She’s Too Tough’ and ‘Ring Of Fire’ are sufficient enough, while the more conventionally structured ‘I Wanna Be Your Hero’ is verging on being one of the album’s highlights and was desperately unlucky not to be used as a late album ‘Hysteria’ or ‘Adrenalize’ track. Even the alternate electric versions of ‘Two Steps Behind’ and ‘Miss You In A Heartbeat’ are worthwhile to close the album out, even if a third (piano version) of the latter is taking it a little too far.

While ‘Retro Active’ cannot be rated super highly, it is extremely rare for a compilation album such as this to do so. With that in mind, this is indeed a pleasant surprise which will at least please some of Def Leppard’s longtime fans due to the relatively organic production levels used here. Importantly, a wise balance of song types is included within the 46 minute (60 if the three alternate versions are counted) duration, meaning that the accessible tracks resulted in this album still selling well and deservedly going top 10 in both the U.S & U.K.

Recommended Tracks: Two Steps Behind, Action, From The Inside & Miss You In A Heartbeat.



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user ratings (53)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This one is for Dougie & DavID, the 2 biggest Def Leppard fans I know.

Waior
May 15th 2009



11446 Comments


Haha, so many classic ratings.

Excellent review for a silly album, as usual Davey. Haha. Pos, obviously.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think all of those 5 ratings are by the 1 person.

And no, this is not a silly album. It's actually pretty good I reckon.

Oh man, the album cover didn't come out too good. It's actually quite a good one, so I may go look for a clearer version.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ok, well that's a little better re: the album art. At least you can now make out that the skull is made up of a woman looking in the mirror.

By the way, for those unaware, this will be my last review for the better part of 2 months. What better way to go out than good ol' Def Lep. Oh well, this album didn't have a review.

Waior
May 15th 2009



11446 Comments


Gear up for a succinctly sentimental moment: Davey-o, I shall miss your complimentary presence around here during your leave of absence. I'm certain many a new reviewers' self esteem will be at risk to snarky users but upon my cat's grave, I swear we will be an encouraging music reviewing community in your memory.

God, I'm strange. And the album artwork still looks bad. Haha. This Message Edited On 05.15.09

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

My a$$ sentimental. The last time I looked, your avatar was crying. Now, look at it; Smiling like a cat that just caught a mouse.

And yes, some new reviewers will have to fend for themselves for a while as the dark & evil forces of Sputnik City look to take over. Superheroes need their time off too.

marksellsuswallets
May 15th 2009



4848 Comments


I don't see the woman looking in the mirror that makes up the skull...I feel like I'm missing out.

Anyways, where are you going for two whole months? And how many more Def Lep albums do you have left? haha.

Oh wait nvm I see it now...This Message Edited On 05.15.09

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

LOL Brent. Yes, it's a bit of an optical illusion!

As for the holiday, all up it's about a week in London and then a tour around mainland Europe (including the likes of France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany & Holland). Nothing big. Haha.

marksellsuswallets
May 15th 2009



4848 Comments


Sweet. Austria and France are the only places I've been to from that list, and they're both great (Austria has way better food/friendlier people though).

Douglas
May 15th 2009



9092 Comments


This one is for Dougie & DavID

The rating Davey is to just prove you wrong, you try in vein my friend.

Digging: James Vincent McMorrow - Post Tropical

Douglas
May 15th 2009



9092 Comments


Correct, couldnt find a good one of Dylan Moran at the time, so Bill had to do.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I've never been to Austria Brent, but have been told it was really nice. I have been to Switzerland however and thought that was excellent. Actually, now that I think of it, I have been to Austria, but one of the smaller cities only. Can't even remember its name... The one with the big ski jump in the middle of the city.

Hey Dougie, you may want to know that rating an album without listening to it is a bannable offence.

Douglas
May 15th 2009



9092 Comments


I will risk all chances in this case, your lucky I am not in a troll neg mood ; )

Though I acknowledge the dedication in any case!


This Message Edited On 05.15.09

Vooligan
May 15th 2009



3541 Comments


Oh look, another Davey Def Leppard review.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Well, at least you know dedication when you see it Dougie. I think everyone knows we are not one & the same person now!

Hello Billy. You've been quiet lately.

Vooligan
May 15th 2009



3541 Comments


Yeah its cos of this little thing called Year 12, it kinda sucks up your life and forces you to stick your head in a book for a year.
: (

Douglas
May 15th 2009



9092 Comments


Haha. Oh the days of Yr 12. I am glad they are gone.

Fugue
May 15th 2009



7352 Comments


DefLeppardBoy with another good (if somewhat predictable) review.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2009



20856 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, good luck with that Billy. Like Dougie, I am also glad those days are gone.

Ross, in a way the review was not predictable as most people think Def Leppard went way downhill after Hysteria (or Adrenalize) and this album is genuinely overlooked.

There's some really good stuff on here and the simple reason why some of the songs weren't on Hysteria or Adrenalize was because they just didn't fit and wouldn't have flown with a lot of the mainstream fanbase they had built up around that time.

I know I'm still in the minority with this opinion though.

AtavanHalen
May 15th 2009



17927 Comments


review sucks



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