“Hysteria” was huge. Three long years after exploding into the pop culture arena with their album “Pyromania” and the phenomenal single, “Photograph”, Def Leppard came roaring back, determined to take their music all the way to the top of the charts (where a little album called “Thriller” had previously kept them at number two).
Yes, their drummer lost an arm. Yes, they went through three producers…the trials and tribulations of the making of this album are well-described in a lovely liner note essay.
They came up with a monster album filled with classic songs, killer riffs, exquisite sonics…this album is the best example of the marriage of pop music to metal that exists. Period.
First, the remastering of the record sounds spectacular. Given the density of the tracks here, you can spend hours listening to songs over and over again, finding new little details, or appreciating more subtle touches.
“Subtle”? Did I say “subtle”? On an album whose first four songs are, in order, “Women”, “Rocket”, “Animal” and “Love Bites”?
Well, yes. Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s productions are famous for layer upon layer of vocals, instruments, percussion, noise, samples…and you can dissect each and every one for days. Elegant little synth lines hidden in bludgeoning anthems, or operatic harmonies that seem to fit together like puzzle pieces…
Def Leppard also have a healthy sense of humor and wit. This is a fun record. Again, look at the names of the first four songs…
The record starts off weak, as I have always felt “Women” to be one of the least interesting things on the platter. “Rocket” gets things moving; it’s an homage to the poppy, glam-rock heroes of their youth.
“Animal” is where the “Hysteria” sound clarifies and crystallizes. It’s a catchy pop-metal anthem, in an era where metal was dark or hidden behind epic explosions of hair and spandex, and pop was often mall-bound and limp. The soaring vocals of Joe Elliott at the end of the song NEVER gets old.
“Love Bites” is a rare hard-rock ballad that works, so much so it reached Number One. In fact, rock bands were never considered “singles” band (for really no good reason), but Def Leppard gleefully slung tunes, one after another, into American Top 40 radio (and MTV) until they themselves were competing with people like Michael Jackson.
The album went to Number One, stayed for a month and half, and sold, like, sixteen million copies.
Back to the record, we now come to the most totally awesome single. Ever. Dude. Seriously.
“Pour Some Sugar On Me” is a perfect amalgam of power-pop hooks, crunching guitar chords, elephants-on-steroids drums, peerless sonic production…and a chorus a three-year-old can sing. A song both critics and fans love to love. One listen, and it’s back to 1987.
“Armageddon It” is yet another crisp, thundering rocker, which sounded sweet coming from car radios back then…and still does now. The lyric wordplay confirms the idea that these guys have a lot of fun with themselves.
“Gods of War” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun” are lesser effors; ambitious yes…just not as successful as the preceding tracks.
The blinding “Run Riot” gives those thundering “elephantine” drums a dose of crack, and the result is a happy thrill ride of a pop song.
The title song “Hysteria” is a justly celebrated, slow rock anthem, composed of seemingly a thousand parts, making another singular epic tune. Crisp guitars, layers upon layers of vocals, great melodies, interesting production effects…
I think the album ends a little weak with the dance-rock of “Excitable” (which is still at least fun to listen to) and the ponderous “Love and Affection” (which is not).
All in all, clearly one of the best of that era. One of the best of that genre. One of the best pretty much ever if you care at all about modern popular music.
Now for the extras: The B-sides are terrific, and almost worth the price of admission in and of themselves. In particular, “Tear It Down” should have been on the album. It’s better than four or five of those that made it. The live versions are interesting…Alice Cooper’s “Elected” sounds terrific, but the only “Hysteria” songs are “Women” and “Love and Affection”. I hope they are saving the other ones for a subsequent live release.
The remixes are “extended” versions, but I think the proper word is “prolonged.” By inserting long, lyric-less gaps into a song does not make it any more interesting. These are all examples where “more” is definitely “less”.
The capper is an absolutely bonkers version of ‘Release Me’…yes, the Englebert Humperdinck song…with truly unhinged vocals from the bands’ Welsh crew master, Malvin Mortimer. Strange beyond belief, but riotously funny.
So there you have it. I honestly wish ALL classic albums would come out this way. This was really a treat.