Pearl: 30 Years of Hysteria

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Def Leppard – Hysteria

Released August 3rd, 1987 on Mercury Records

Has there ever been a rock band as completely on-the-nose as Def Leppard is on Hysteria?  I mean really just taking the idea of Big Dumb Rock and making it Bigger, Dumber, and Rockier.  It’s not enough to have an album with the ultimate power ballad, “Love Bites” on it.  Not at all.  They also had to have the ultimate arena rock anthem, the stripped-down-to-essence rock ‘n’ roll fist-pumper “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  And the sanitized stadium lust of “Animal”.  And the pure butter melodies of “Armageddon It”.  And the Eighties rock heroics of the title track.  And “Rocket”.  And “Women”.  It was wall-to-wall singles, all chart-reaching arena pounders without any depth beyond having a good time and sticking your fist in the air.  And yet it’s coming was as hard-won as any hardscrabble up-and-coming band’s might have been.

In 1983 the band released Pyromania.  Their previous two albums had established them as a driving force in the poppier side of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the sprawling, dank counterweight to the British punk movement that also featured Union Jack-wavers Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, from whose discography Metallica grokked most of their moves.  Pyromania was a huge success in America, driven by hit singles “Photograph” and “Rock Of Ages”; the band only released three singles despite selling towering piles of records because they didn’t want to flood the market and undercut the inevitable follow-up.  That follow-up, Hysteria, wouldn’t arrive for another four years.  The band, who had recorded with Mutt Lange for Pyromania, wanted to go bigger and tapped Jim Steinman, the songwriter for Meatloaf.  Steinman wanted to record a more visceral, in-your-face Def Leppard; the band had hired him, however, because they wanted a clean, crisp, gigantic arena rock album.  As singer Joe Elliot pointed out, Steinman wrote Meatloaf, but it was Todd Rundgren that produced him.  Those early efforts were frustrated by the gap between band and producer and then were cut short in 1984 when drummer Rick Allen flipped his Corvette on New Year’s Eve and ended up losing an arm.

The idea that the drummer from Def Leppard only has one arm is a sort of rock ‘n’ roll cliche now (thanks to the Bloodhound Gang) but getting Allen back up to speed was both time-consuming and technologically challenging.  Thankfully the band’s label was awash in money thanks to Pyromania and so the latter proved to be no serious issue.  Allen’s kit became a hybrid traditional and electronic kit, with MIDI triggers built in that would play the sounds that Allen would typically have used his left arm for.  Learning to use it was the harder part, and most of 1985 was spent just getting the band back into fighting form.  By the end of 1985 Allen was on top of his game again, and Mutt Lange had returned to produce new recording sessions.  1986 would also prove to be a challenging year, since Lange himself crashed his car (with less injuries than Rick Allen suffered) and Joe Elliott somehow managed to contract the mumps.

The end result of all of that, however, was a bona fide hit machine, a chart topper that ruled the airwaves for the end of the Eighties.  Mutt Lange has said that he and the band wanted to record a crossover album that would have wide pop appeal, like a NWOBHM Thriller, and that’s pretty much exactly what Hysteria is.  Def Leppard would hit the Billboard Top 40 with ten consecutive singles, seven from Hysteria, beginning with “Animals”.  They would never again achieve such success, although they always managed to pop up in the charts from time to time.  Hysteria is about as pop as metal got in the 1980s, scrubbed clean to the point where there’s really nothing metal about it at all. Still, it’s instantly recognizable and a pillar of Eighties production; Mutt Lange would go on to use the tricks he pulled on Hysteria to inform his then-wife Shania Twain’s country-crossover success.

 

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