When Def Leppard Cleaned Out the Closet for ‘Retro-Active’
By the start of the '90s, Def Leppard had long-since established themselves both as one of the world’s best hard-rock bands, and also one of its most unfortunate.
The fact that they survived the twin blows of Rick Allen’s horrific 1984 car accident (which resulted in the amputation of his left arm) and the heartbreaking, alcohol-related death of guitarist Steve Clarke in 1991 is remarkable enough. That Def Leppard still managed to perform before millions of people and sell upwards of 20 million albums along the way? Nothing short of miraculous.
Just as incredible is the patience displayed by their followers, who stuck by Def Leppard throughout these travails even when they had wait as long as four or five years between studio albums. So as the quintet (now complemented by former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist, Vivian Campbell) came off the concert trail in support of 1992's Adrenalize toward the end of 1993, these fans were already digging in for what was bound to be a lengthy hiatus until Def Leppard's next release.
Luckily, plans had already been set in motion at Mercury Records, the band’s longtime label, to empty the vaults into a fascinating collection of lost tracks, B-sides and studio outtakes. The aptly named Retro-Active, released on Oct. 4, 1993, proved to be quite the stocking-stuffer for long-suffering Def Leppard supporters, as it took them on a trip down memory lane with sounds and styles representing virtually all eras of the band’s constant musical evolution.
For old-school, New Wave of British Heavy Metal survivors, there was the blessedly metallic riff-mongering of "Desert Song," "Fractured Love," and "Ride Into the Sun." For Hysteria-period hysterics and Adrenalize acolytes, there were finely coiffed pop metal gems like "She’s Too Tough," "Ring of Fire" and "I Wanna Be Your Hero."
Listen to Def Leppard Perform 'Desert Song'
For the ladies, romantic ballads such as "Two Steps Behind," "Miss You in a Heartbeat" and "From the Inside" and, for bonus-track seekers, Leppard's collaboration with key influence Mick Ronson on "Only After Dark" and a cover of the Sweet’s "Action."
All of the material had been air-brushed and overdubbed, to a point, over the previous year. Still, the end results amounted to an atypically diverse cross-section of Def Leppard’s career discography. It was “haphazard” and “unfocused” in the best possible way, so that virtually every fan faction got a little something of what they hankered for. In sum, Retro-Active was a winning proposition, by most every imaginable measure.
Perhaps the only negative outcome: By allowing Def Leppard to wipe their creative slate clean and put their personal traumas behind them, Retro-Active also paved the way for 1996’s Slang. That controversial LP found Def Leppard altering their sound almost beyond recognition, in a bold, even commendable, but ultimately ill-fated bid to stay current with changing music trends.