I had this on CD but I don’t have it anymore.
Against my better judgement (and pressure from my older brothers), I gave it to a local DJ (a family friend as well) to play at a party he was MC at, but he had a chequered history of not returning peoples music.
And as per the script, when I asked him for the CD back after the party, he told me that his DJ gear and the music he had was stolen after the party. But it appeared “somehow” magically the following fortnight for another party.
I also dubbed it on cassette before I lent it, so I might have had an inkling that it would never come back.
So what is “Retro Active”?
Released in 1993 to the slogan of “We’ve pretty much cleared out the shelves with this album”, “Retro Active” is a compilation album featuring re-worked versions of B-sides and previously unreleased recordings from the band’s recording sessions between 1984 to 1993. The creativity of the band members during this period was an all time high.
The press release for the album wanted to make clear, that;
“This is not a new Def Leppard album – nor is it an old Def Leppard record. It is “Retro-Active”, a collection of songs that have appeared in hard to find places or, in certain cases, never made it out of the studio until now.”
The band wanted to do this kind of album after “Hysteria”, with a release in 1989, however those plans didn’t eventuate.
Pretty cool album cover as well by Nels Israelson and Hugh Syme and how two different images can be seen when viewed from a distance.
Vivian Campbell gets a chance to adding his own textures of electric guitars, acoustic guitars and backing vocals, on top of everything else that was already there by Rick Allen, Steve Clark, Phil Collen, Joe Elliot and Rick Savage.
Michael Schenker came to mind when I saw this title.
And this is a great opening track, written by Clark, Elliott and Savage. Listed as an unreleased outtake from the “Hysteria” sessions.
The Arabic/Dio/Blackmore feel of the main riff reminds me of early Def Leppard. And when the Pre-Chorus (or is it the Chorus) kicks in, you get smacked in the face by the “Hysteria” multi-layered vocals.
There is this quietened down section in the middle of the song, which reminds me of the 70’s and the arrangements that bands used to do back then. The middle section gives way to a lead break and to an outro with has minimal singing, however Elliot is using his voice like another instrument.
My favourite song on this album and another unreleased outtake from the “Hysteria” sessions.
Written by Clark, Elliott and Savage. It was part of the original “Hysteria” track listing in the Spring of 1985, but once Mutt Lange returned, the song was shelved.
The drum like intro was actually recorded by Elliot, by tapping his fingers on the studio vocal booth “baffles”. The sound was then enhanced and looped to form the atmospheric intro.
The E-bow effects by Collen are haunting. The open string build up in the verses reminds me of Queensryche and songs from “Operation Mindcrime”.
And when the whole band crashes in for the multi-layered Chorus, its head banging time.
A Sweet cover written by Andy Scott, Brian Connolly, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker. It was originally released on the “Make Love Like a Man” single; this version has re-recorded snare drums.
While the band Sweet had some traction in Australia, it was artists covering their songs in the 80’s and 90’s that got me interested to check them out.
And I like how Def Leppard just made it their own, rocking out, shredding out and in sections bringing in the multi-layered vocals.
Two Steps Behind
Written by Elliot. The unexpected hit.
This is the acoustic version and an electric version is further down the track list. It’s very Bryan Adams sounding.
It got some traction from the film “Last Action Hero” and it was originally released on the “Make Love Like a Man” single.
She’s Too Tough
Another cut written by Elliott and I dig it when his voice gets all Bon Scott throaty. Press play to hear him rock and roll in the verses like this.
This was a B-side included as a bonus track on the Japanese pressings of “Adrenalize”. Written in 1985, the song first appeared on the Helix album “Wild in the Streets” in 1987.
It was redone by the Lep and also released on the singles for “Heaven Is”, “Tonight”, and “Stand Up (Kick Love into Motion)”.
Miss You in a Heartbeat
This acoustic version has this gospel feel which I like.
The song was released on the “Make Love Like a Man” single as well as the Japanese versions of “Adrenalize”.
Phil Collen wrote it and it first appeared on an album by “The Law” featuring Paul Rodgers, released in 1991.
Only After Dark
A Mick Ronson cover, written by Ronson and Scott Richardson.
The song previously appeared on the “Let’s Get Rocked” single, and extra guitars were added for this release.
And the groove is still funky.
Ride Into The Sun (1987 re-recording)
This cut is listed as coming from the “Hysteria” sessions, however it goes back to “The Def Leppard E.P” from 1979.
It’s also listed as being written by Clark, Collen (I’m not sure what he added musically to get a credit as he wasn’t in the band when this song was originally written), Elliot and Savage.
And it’s pretty close to the original version in the verses and chorus.
Slight differences are from the “Hysteria” era cut is that it featured a Rick Allen drum solo intro, whereas the version here has a honky tonk piano intro provided by Ian Hunter.
From the Inside (with the Hothouse Flowers)
Another cut written by Joe Elliott for the “Adrenalize” album. I actually like the R.E.M vibe they have happening here.
It appeared as a B side to the “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” single and some single releases of “Stand Up (Kick Love into Motion)”.
Ring of Fire
How this song never made the cut for “Hysteria” is a tragedy. It’s a pure hard rocker that borders on the early NWOBHM sound of the first two albums.
It will forever be known as a B side from the “Hysteria” sessions.
The song writing gang is also back with Clark, Collen, Elliot, Lange and Savage listed as writers.
It was originally released on the 1988 singles “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in the U.S and “Armageddon It” in the UK.
Press play and let the hard rock sounds wash over you.
I Wanna Be Your Hero
Another cut forever known as a B side from the “Hysteria” sessions and also written by the gang of Clark, Collen, Elliot, Lange and Savage.
It was originally released on the 1987 singles “Animal” in the U.S and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in the UK.
Miss You in a Heartbeat (Electric Version)
How many versions of the same song could you want?
Well for this song, we get three versions.
Two Steps Behind (Electric Version)
Squeezing more mileage out of this one. And while I said the acoustic version sounds like Bryan Adams, this version seals the deal. It could be interchanged with another ballad from a Bryan Adams album.
Miss You in a Heartbeat (Piano Version)
It’s listed as a hidden track.
In relation to “Miss You In A Heartbeat” and “Two Steps Behind”, it goes to show how Def Leppard tried many different ways to bring the song to life. It’s not easy re-doing and re-creating a song.
And with this album, an era was done and the band was ready to start fresh.