Def Leppard "Yeah!"

Yeah!, the new album by Def Leppard, was released this week. It's an album of covers, on which the pop-metal quintet pays tribute to bands and songs they grew up listening to in England. To American listeners, several songs may seem like obscure choices, but the original versions of all 14 tracks were Top 20 hits in the UK. Not surprisingly, many of the selections are from the early-'70's glam period, which the band once sang a song about (remember "Rocket"?). Songs by David Bowie, T. Rex, Sweet, Mott The Hoople, and Roxy Music represent that genre. Some other UK-based bands covered include Badfinger, Free, Thin Lizzy, and the Faces. Speaking of which, that last band's song "Stay With Me" is sung by guitarist Phil Collen, and the Leps cleverly recreate its raucous vibe while remaining in firm control.

One of the more surprising choices is the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset", which gets a faithful yet Leppard-like treatment. It's just what a cover song should be; the band puts their personal stamp on it, but doesn't diminish its quality one bit. In fact, you could say the same for just about every track in the bunch. Yeah! is Def Leppard's strongest effort since their 1987 blockbuster Hysteria. Every album the band has recorded between then and now has lacked some essential ingredient that made their '80's albums great. Some will argue that the 1991 death of original lead guitarist Steve Clark made them lose their driving force, or that no producer could produce them as well as Mutt Lange did in their heyday. But the self-produced Yeah! demonstrates that the band still have strength, provided that they have good material and the proper focus. Hopefully they can pull off an equally enjoyable set of originals in the future. We'll see.

Frustratingly, different retailers are carrying slightly different versions of the CD. The regular version being sold in most outlets contains 14 tracks. But the versions sold at Target and Best Buys each contain two exclusive bonus tracks. Hopefully, online music services will offer those tracks as downloads -- or would that defeat the purpose?

To confuse matters further, Wal-Mart is separately selling a 24-minute disc of extras. It's titled Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews (Bludgeon Riffola/Island B0006924-02). It contains five more cover songs that were not recorded by the full quintet. The first is Tom Petty's "American Girl", the original version of which just barely made the UK Top 40. It's performed by Joe Elliott, Vivian Campbell, and two other musicians. The second is Iggy Pop's "Search & Destroy", on which Phil Collen plays all instruments and sings. Elliot does the same on Bowie's "Space Oddity" (the only selection on this EP whose original version was a UK Top 20 hit), as does Rick Savage on Queen's "Dear Friends". For a rendition of Jobriath's "Heartbeat", Elliott sings and plays organ, while two other musicians provide cello and piano. The disc also contains three interview tracks, each one running three minutes or less. Interview #1 is about the band's 2005 tour; the other two are about the Yeah! album and its song selection. If you find yourself in Wal-Mart, the bonus disc is a worthwhile $6 purchase.

Also, the band appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Tuesday night, performing T.Rex's "20th Century Boy". They are still a solid live band.