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Def Leppard
Pyromania & Adrenalize reissues Toby Cook , June 11th, 2009 08:58

Thatcherism, yuppies, mobile phones big enough to warrant a tow-bar on the back of your Jaguar, arriving home to the off-green neon glow of your Commodore, and Casio-standard synthesizer music on almost constant rotation on Radio One; welcome to 1983. Startling, then, that amongst all of this one of the best releases of the year would come from five poodle-haired, twenty-somethings from Sheffield.

At the time, few could have predicted the impact that Pyromania would have, not just in the future of Def Leppard but on the entire musical landscape of the time. Coming on the back of the competent but somewhat contrived shoals of On Through The Night and High 'n' Dry, Pyromania deserved to cement the mighty Leppard as a household name UK, just as it did in the US. It was an indefectible amalgam of fist pumping, caterwauling vocals, guitars fuzzed to within an inch of their lives and a truly gluttonous amount of power chords — it seemed as if Angus Young might enter the studio to reclaim them at any moment. As cliché as it may be to point it out, Pyromania really is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers. As the rock world drooled and limped its way into the mid-80s, it reeked of over-reliance on studio gimmicks — an era's worth of over-produced dirge followed, compressed and polished to death. Pyromania didn't so much buck as extirpate this trend.

This is not to say that the sound of Pyromania is particularly raw. Far from it, in fact; thanks to the considerable talents of Robert John “Mutt” Lange, there is an aura here that is only hinted at on the band's previous releases. Def Leppard have never been, and will never be, the most cerebral of AOR bands (if indeed there is such a thing) — but that's not what albums like this are supposed to be about. Opener 'Rock! Rock!! (Til You Drop)' is such an alarming homage to AC/DC it could almost be embarrassing; yet the song defies — flat-out challenges you — not to start nodding like a trauma patient the moment Steve Clark opens his can-o-riffs. Such was the resonance of lead single 'Photograph' — the album's chugging, crack-shot snare-led magnum opus — that our pan-Atlantic cousins requested the video on the then new-fangled MTV more often than Michael Jackson's 'Beat it'. It propelled sales of the LP to over 10 million.

From here on in it just gets better: in the period before the rampant alcohol abuse and limb-severing car accidents, Def Leppard could have ruled the world (if only the UK were paying attention). 'Too Late For Love' and the colossal yet deftly subtle 'Foolin'' are songs built for stadium gigs and lighter-waiving orgies. The recorded equivalent of those nights at the end of the month, too far from last pay-day, when an overindulgence in cheap speed seems like a good idea. You know that all you want to do is party. You don't really know why, but you do it anyway, and it's awesome.

1992: yuppie culture and the brash opulence of the previous decade are waning and, championed by waves of plaid-shirted Seattleites, the rise of grunge should have signaled the death knell of a band that had by this point grown accustomed to a slower work rate than Bruce Springsteen's. If Pyromania was a powerful, vivid creation — albeit, admittedly, not a hugely original one — then Adrenalize is the chalk to its organically farmed, oak-aged, nasal passage-clogging Blue Stilton.

In defence of the band, the events leading up to this album's recording would have sent lesser groups either to therapy or to the gutter — it would be unfair to accuse the band of foot-dragging. By this point, guitarist Steve Clark's descent into alcoholism had culminated in his dying from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol before recording sessions had really began in earnest. Consequently, when recording resumed their long-time knob-twiddler of choice, "Mutt" Lange, was unable to resume production duties due to his being committed to Bryan Adam's latest opus. Given the trials and tribulations surrounding the LP, it would have been no great shock to report that Adrenalize was a muddled mix of hastily-pulled-together, elaborate and strained MOR dirge.

Holy Fuck!

Through a deep, surgically precise analysis of Adrenalize would reveal many, many flaws, the record buying public of '92 cared not — the LP topped both the UK and US charts simultaneously, shifting seven million units in the process. And it's easy to see why: while many bands in The Leps' situation would have succumbed to chin-strokey catharsis, Def Leppard — spectacularly — looked to the other end of the spectrum and unleashed an LP of unrelenting catchiness; a dose of sugarcoated PCP injected straight into the ear drums couldn't have matched it for the ensuing levels of unpretentious escapism. 'Let's Get Rocked' — in spite of having one of the most horrifically OTT examples of early CGI in the accompanying video — is unashamedly frivolous, invoking no feeling or extended contemplation, just total, involuntary sing-alongs.

The lack of any great cohesion is undeniably the downfall of Adrenalize, however. While the bone-headed yet harmless machismo of 'Make Love Like A Man' and the eerie astroplanes in 'White Lightning' elevate the album above the mundane (if not, in the latter case, providing the ode to tramp-juice suggested by its title), even today the niggling thought remains: what could they have produced, had hearts been worn firmly on sleeves?

Def Leppard in their salad days were undoubtedly amongst the cream of the AOR crop, and the release of Pyromania and Adrenalize in the 'deluxe' formats is more than timely — if ever a pair of releases showed both extremes of a band's personality, this is the one. Perhaps due to the quality contained on the albums themselves, it's unfortunate to have to report that both bonus discs are slap-dash affairs. The live recordings that shadow the Adrenalize package only really serve to remind you why, when a record company needs to retain a band's profile, they excrete a hastily-put-together live album; and the kindest thing you could say about the collection of B-sides that accompanies this set is that, well, they were B-sides after all.

The world owes a lot to the melodic hard rock strains the mighty Leppard dropped with Pyromania all those years ago, and if we're honest, we probably owe them bus fare at least for merely surviving Adrenalize . . . we just won't admit it in public.

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