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Why ‘X’ Still Hits The Spot For Def Leppard

‘X’ sidestepped “the Def Leppard thing” to shake things up in the new millennium with outside songwriters and a wholesale embrace of contemporary pop.

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After the adventurous alt.rock departure of Slang, Def Leppard revisited their anthemic signature sound in style on 1999’s Euphoria. That confident and accurately-titled album yielded a gold disc, but – to their credit – the band again eschewed their winning formula and shook things up as they entered the new millennium and began work on their next record, 2002’s X.

Listen to X right now.

Though X is often supposed to stand for “10” in Roman numerals, the record is actually Leppard’s eighth studio album. It is also, in the broadest sense of the term, the most unashamedly “pop”-related record these indefatigable Yorkshiremen have offered up during their long and distinguished career.

“We said this time round, ‘You know what – let’s just make great songs, and if they are all pop songs, they are still going to be guitar-based pop songs,’” vocalist Joe Elliott said at the time of X’s release, on 30 July 2002. “‘Pop’ is a strange word – it’s short for popular, and that can be anything from Black Sabbath to Charlotte Church.”

Accordingly, Leppard began shaping the tracks for X during preliminary sessions at Elliott’s house in Dublin, where a song by one of their favourite bands provided them with some timely inspiration.

“We heard ‘Jaded’, the song Aerosmith wrote with Marti Frederiksen,” guitarist Phil Collen told VH1 in 2002. “We thought, Wow, this sounds cool, it sounds contemporary and energetic, but it’s obviously Aerosmith. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Def Leppard version of that?”

Frederiksen’s songwriting credits also include Carrie Underwood’s BMI Country Award-winning ‘Undo It’ and Gavin Rossdale’s ‘Love Remains The Same’. The talented North American songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist thus hooked up with Def Leppard and went on to play a decisive role in the creation of X, penning the irresistibly radio-friendly UK Top 30 lead single ‘Now’ and producing two more of the album’s stand-out tracks, ‘You’re So Beautiful’ and the yearning, widescreen pop of ‘Everyday’.

The collaborations didn’t end there, either. Nicki Minaj/One Direction songwriter Wayne Hector provided the band with the elegant, string-assisted ballad ‘Long, Long Way To Go’, while Leppard also decamped to ABBA’s Polar Studios with songsmiths Per Aldeheim and Andreas Carlsson (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears) to work on ‘Unbelievable’, a soaring pop song which adroitly assimilated beats, loops and acoustic guitars into Leppard’s trademark hard rock sound.

However, while fans may have been a little bewildered by some of X’s co-writing credits, the record’s eclectic contents demonstrated that there was really nothing to worry about. Indeed, ‘Four Letter Word’ and the hard-edged ‘Cry’ both mercilessly cranked the amps to 11, while ‘Gravity’ – which vacillated between edgy, electro-pop verses and a quintessentially rousing chorus – also showed that innovation remained paramount for Joe Elliott and company.

After mixing at London’s famous Olympic Studios (where Leppard finished their very first single, ‘Wasted’, with producer Nick Tauber, in 1979), work on X wrapped in May 2002 and the album was released two months later. As Joe Elliott said at the time, “Our audience is prepared to let us be.” He was quite correct: the band’s loyal fanbase ensured that X peaked at No.14 in the UK and climbed to No.11 on the Billboard 200, equalling Euphoria’s performance in the process.

Def Leppard later returned to their legend-enshrining hard rock sound, paying tribute to their formative influences with the spirited covers album Yeah!, in 2006, and following up with 2008’s impassioned Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. Yet, the accomplished X is the runt of nobody’s litter, and is remembered fondly by its creators.

“I think there’s some great stuff on X,” Phil Collen told Yahoo in 2006. “I think it’s got some earnest stuff – some really brave songwriting. It was brave because we didn’t do the ‘Def Leppard thing’ we’re known so well for.”

The Def Leppard Volume Two 7CD and 7LP box set is out now and can be pre-ordered here.

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