The first month of 2016 is shaping up to be a terrible year for classic rock, with the deaths of David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister, Dio bassist Jimmy Bain, Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin, even Natalie Cole. (Don’t think of the R&B songstress as a classic rocker? You must never have heard her raw live version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds or the Beacon Theater concerts with the Allman Brothers in 2011.)
Def Leppard’s run of tragedies has been well documented too, including the loss of lead guitarist Steve Clark to alcohol in 1991. His replacement, Vivian Campbell, 53, is currently battling cancer — though still touring and set to appear Friday night when the British hard-rock band headlines a bill with Styx and Tesla at Sunrise’s BB&T Center.
Troubles aside, this is a good time to be Def Leppard, co-lead guitarist Phil Collen says. The band’s latest album, Def Leppard, is the best record its members have released since the landmark Hysteria (the Thriller of hard rock with its seven Hot 100 singles) in 1987.
This is the first time in our careers we were able to do art for the sake of art, no business agenda attached to it.
Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen on the recording of the band’s new eponymous album.
Never miss a local story.
“This is the most special and unique album we’ve done,” Collen said from Glasgow, Scotland, where the band had been touring. “Everything about it was against the grain; there was no reason to do an album, it’s not cost-effective, takes too much time. So we went in to do a single and got so excited with the flow of inspiration and the songs and ideas that were coming, in three days we said, ‘Oh, s---. We’re doing an album!’ ”
Def Leppard sounds more like the Def Leppard millions of ’80s MTV kids turned to such albums as Pyromania and videos like Photograph, Foolin’ and Pour Some Sugar On Me, a confection the new Let’s Go and likely concert opener, recalls with its stomping hook.
Living well helps. Collen, a vegetarian since he was 25, has done every sort of workout imaginable, including power yoga, martial arts, kick boxing, weights and mat Pilates. “Keep active, don’t eat poison. If you want the fountain of youth, there are a couple things you have to do,” he says.
So far, his band mates share Collen’s enthusiasm. “We’re bad-ass live, better than ever. A lot of bands get older … they don’t practice enough, the singer sounds awful, the harmonies use Pro-Tools. We haven’t done any of that. We got better as players, performers, singers. That is an inspiration in and of itself,” he says.
“I was 58 two days ago,” Collen said in December, “and to think I’d even be able to play the guitar this well, let alone at any age, is great. If you keep that integrity you get rewarded.”
Howard Cohen: @HowardCohen
Def Leppard, Styx and Tesla perform at 7 p.m. Friday at BB&T Center, One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise. Tickets: $31.70-$121.70. Ticketmaster.