July 17, 2008

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Def Leppard, The Sparkle Lounge
Mercury Records, April 29
Night Ranger, Hole in the Sun
VH1 Classic Records, July 1

The floor caved long ago beneath the feet of all those hair-metal behemoths. The tide has finally receded for good, revealing a gasping Def Leppard desperately missing their former guru Mutt Lange. Lange, who thrashed their hopeless songwriting into Billboard slam-dunkage and taught Fat Joe Elliott how to sing, is basically retired, riding the Phil Spector fast-track after dumping Shania Twain for someone who looks like Camilla Bowles’ favorite bloodhound.

SPOILER ALERT: Without Lange, the band is nothing. If you want a mediocre Def Leppard album, this is it, loaded up with clichéd yell-along lines (even “once bitten/twice shy” for the luvva Gawd) and myriad species of instantly forgettable songs. The next CD I get from a pop band in which the line “I should have known from the start” appears will find itself cracked in half.

Night Ranger aren’t the guys who sang “Can you take me hiiigher,” which was what I’d thought; they’re the guys who did “Sister Christian” (re-done here unplugged), a song so dreadful that it almost single-handedly started the karaoke movement so copy bands would be out of work and hence couldn’t play it anymore. Unlike Def Lep, though, the Night Rangers aren’t sitting around waiting for it to start raining checks and chicks, they’re holding signs that say “Will Work For Street Cred” and meaning it. “Tell Your Vision” won’t get them any, but the song is a thorough whoop-assing of Mars Volta, more random riffage and tempo changes than Kansas vomited forth in their bell-bottom heyday. Bonehead-indie-rock departures like “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” are signs of sentient life, but ironically, whether such prostrations at the altar of college radio get them anywhere may depend on how unfamiliar the DJs are with them. Def Leppard grade: D+ Night Ranger grade: B+Eric W. Saeger