Over 40 years since their debut album, Def Leppard are still one of the biggest acts in the world. To date, they’ve sold more than 100 million records worldwide, becoming one of only five rock bands in history to ever achieve RIAA demand certification for two original studio albums. They’re widely considered to be one of the greatest rocks bands in the world, and for very good reason. Here, we take a look back at their career as we rank all 11 Def Leppard albums.
X was released in 2002, during a period in which Def Leppard were exploring their softer, more approachable side. It’s poppier than their previous offerings, with a scattering of made-for-radio singles and tender ballads. Neither really works. None of the singles made waves in the charts and the album, while reaching a respectable No. 11 on the Billboard 200, didn’t sell well in comparison to their previous releases. Somewhat understandably, the band haven’t played any of the material live since wrapping up its supporting tour.
As Love It To Death says, Def Leppard’s cover album isn’t a bad listen. Created as a tribute to the artists that helped shape their vision, there’s plenty of good tracks, including excellent covers of Rock On by David Essex and Hanging On The Telephone by The Nerves. But ultimately, a covers album isn’t necessarily what we want to hear from a band as capable of producing their own material as Def Leppard.
On the 1999 album Euphoria, producer “Mutt” Lange was back on board in a limited capacity. Perhaps if he’d been given a bigger remit, the album would have been better. As it is, it lacks focus. There’s plenty of great tracks (Back in Your Face and Promises are both exceptional), but too much of the album misses the mark. Despite its flaws, it was still a decent seller, peaking at No. 11 on both the Billboard 200 and UK Albums Chart and eventually certifying gold.
8. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
After venturing into covers on Yeah!, Def Leppard went back to their own material for 2008’s Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. It marks another departure for the band, seeing them move away from the popper sound they’d been cultivating on their more recent albums and back to the glam rock roots of their youth. The singles didn’t really connect, but there’s gold in the deep cuts, particularly on the likes of the wonderfully textured ballad Love and the excellent opener Go.
By 1996, the hair metal gods of the 80s were on the verge of extinction. Some managed to reinvent themselves for the new decade, others failed catastrophically. Def Leppard, understandably, ended up having a bit of an identity crisis. They decided to go heavier and darker than they ever had before, breaking into new territories and pushing their experimental side to its limits. Slang didn’t go down too well at the time, selling just half a million records. But it’s aged surprisingly well, with tracks like Breathe a Sigh and All I Want is Everything showing that taking risks can sometimes work.
6. Def Leppard
After a wobbly few years, Def Leppard pulled out all the stops for their self-titled 2015 release. A return to the classic Def Leppard sound, it’s a gloriously life-affirming album, with tracks like We Belong, All Time High, and Sea of Love standing shoulder to shoulder with their best songs. It’s a bit cheesy in places, but that’s part of what makes it so much fun.
5. On Through the Night
On their 1980 debut, On Through the Night, Def Leppard hadn’t yet honed their signature sound, but it’s still a glorious introduction to the band. Joe Elliott once claimed “We’ve never been heavy metal,” but here they sure sound like it. Metal was only just beginning to make its presence known in the UK, but its influence is stamped all over tracks like Rocks Off and Wasted. It’s heavier and more brutal than anything they’d do again, but still an incredibly accomplished opening shot.
For a while, grunge and hair metal co-existed happily enough. Just a couple of months after Nirvana’s Nevermind topped the charts, Def Leppard did the same with Adrenalize. The band were still reeling from the loss of Steve Clark (to whom the album is dedicated), but it’s far from a melancholic album. The singles (including the chart topping anthem Let Get Rocked) are all fun, but the real stinger is White Lightening, a grand, Led Zeppelin-inspired rocker written in tribute to Clarke.
As Loud Wire notes, while 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry had put Def Leppard on a number of critics radars, it was their third album that sent them stratospheric. Metal and hard rock were both on the verge of exploding, and this was the album that helped light the fuse. There’s barely a weak moment across the entire album, with Billy’s Got a Gun, Photograph, Rock of Ages, and Rock! Rock! Til You Drop all standing out as highlights. The album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified diamond.
2. High ‘n’ Dry
Described by Louder Sound as the connoisseur’s choice, Def Leppard’s second album is a hard-rocking tour de force. Stylistically, it’s a major leap forward from their debut. It’s still got plenty of rough and ready attitude, but it’s sharper, more refined, and, ultimately, more accessible than its predecessor. Key standouts include the jubilant titular track and the insanely hooky album opener Let It Go.
Def Leppard intended Hysteria to be the hard rock equivalent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. They succeeded. Almost every track on the album has ‘hit’ written all over them. Six of the 12 tracks went on to break the Top 20 in the US, with Love Bites peaking at No. 1 and Pour Some Sugar on Me reaching No. 2. It was big and bold – experimental enough to be interesting, but accessible enough to be commercial. It’s since sold over 20 million copies worldwide to become the band’s best-selling album to date.