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Def Leppard looks back and takes step forward with new live album

Joe Elliott (center) with Def Leppard. Joe Elliott (center) with Def Leppard. (Ash Newell Photography)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / June 26, 2011

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For more than 30 years, Def Leppard has been dirtying up pop and polishing up hard rock. This happy intersection has resulted in the candy-coated whomp of hits like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,’’ “Photograph,’’ “Rock of Ages,’’ and “Love Bites.’’ Although the quintet hit its commercial peak — and endured its share of tragedies — in the ’80s, the Lep has remained steadfastly forward-looking, releasing and playing new music even as it hit the classic rock package-tour circuit.

After an 18-month break, the band is back with a new live album and DVD, “Mirror Ball: Live & More,’’ which features three new tunes in the group’s classic shiny riffs-n-harmonies mold, and a photo book, featuring many of the iconic shots of the band spawned from Sheffield, England. We recently caught up with lead singer Joe Elliott in West Palm Beach, Fla., as the band prepared to hit the road on a tour with Heart that brings them to the Comcast Center on Thursday.

Q. There are three new tunes on the live album including the single you wrote, “Undefeated.’’ Did you write it specifically to be a new sports arena anthem?

A. I certainly didn’t set out to do that but as I was piecing it together, common sense just prevailed. It was definitely a me-against-the-world kind of thing and it was probably inspired by anything as ridiculous as “Rocky’’ movies or some boxing match I’d seen a couple of days earlier on TV. It was just that whole attitude that you need to have as a boxer. You can’t enter a ring thinking that you can’t win. It’s the same thing when a band goes on stage. [When we started to tour] the comments were coming like, “How do you follow a band like Journey or Heart or Alice Cooper or Cheap Trick?’’ You have to go out there thinking you can follow the Beatles or Stones, never mind who you’re actually paired with. You have to have that mentality. And I think subconsciously it must’ve leaked spiritually into my thinking for the lyrics. It’s a very positive message. As are all three of the new songs.

Q. It also has the Burundi beat that you like so much and used in the past on songs like “Rocket.’’

A. I’m addicted to hypnotic drum rhythms. We haven’t done it for a while. As a fan of the “Burundi Black,’’ Gary Glitter, and the Adam and the Ants stuff, it was just a case of “keep the song simple because the drums can do all the work for you.’’ And if you’ve got a lyric that people can hang their hat on and a chorus they can punch the air to, then you’ve pretty much got everything you need.

Q. And you’ve just essentially described Def Leppard’s catalog.

A. It is good to finally come up with a song that can maybe one day be judged as equal to some of the stuff that’s in everybody’s DNA for [the last] 25 years. And that’s very difficult for any band, whether it be Aerosmith or the Stones or U2 or us. You put a new thing out and there’s always going to be some naysayers saying, “Well it’s hardly ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’ is it?’’ It may be better, it’s just that you’re not that familiar with it and you’re not going to be batted for the next 25 years with the video because the infrastructure’s not there the way it was back then. If just a few people pick up on the fact that [“Undefeated’’ isn’t] a mimic of anything else but it’s a blood brother of [past hits] then I think we’ve done all right.

Q. When people ask you about following other bands I’m surprised you don’t just say “We’re Def Leppard.’’

A. We do, privately. But publicly you’ve got to be very respectful of anybody you play with. Some bands are easier to follow than others. The good thing about having a great band open for you is it just keeps you on your toes.

Q. You’ve been pretty nostalgia-resistant to this point, but this year you’re releasing the live album and a photo book “Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History.’’ Why do you think you’re looking back now?

A. Because we had the time. We didn’t have the demands of a brand new album, no record contracts — we’re free, thank God! And that’s why we just came up with the three new songs, it wasn’t like we needed to come up with 12. They came out totally naturally. And then we had the chance to actually for the first time in our careers to look over our shoulders.

Q. What did you think having that look, as you first paged through the book?

A. To me it’s the ultimate companion with the album. If you’re going to sit and listen to Def Leppard live for two hours, if you’re a huge fan of the band, there’s no better way than just plowing through the book at the same time. (Laughs) Like any band that’s survived as long as we have, there is every fashion crime committed, every emotion that exists: good, bad, indifferent. Every mood from happy to sad. It’s got every lineup of the band including the brief period as a four-piece [after guitarist Steve Clark’s death]. It’s a greatest hits in photographs if you like.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

DEF LEPPARD

With: Heart

At: Comcast Center, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $25-$125. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com