Tuesday, 28 October 2014

DEF LEPPARD: Hysteria





(#351: 29 August 1987, 1 week)

Track listing: Women/Rocket/Animal/Love Bites/Pour Some Sugar On Me/Armageddon It/Gods Of War/Don’t Shoot Shotgun/Run Riot/Hysteria/Excitable/Love And Affection

The matey sleevenote repeatedly apologises to fans for having to wait four years for a follow-up to Pyromania. Reasons for this included drummer Rick Allen slamming his black Corvette into a wall of stone and losing his left arm, protracted and unsatisfactory studio sessions – reference is made to sixteen months’ worth of songs having been junked – which involved a tired Mutt Lange, then Jim Steinman (who wanted a straight rock ‘n’ roll album), then Lange’s engineer Nigel Green, and finally Lange again. Add to this the fact that Lange’s painstaking production required a Herculean amount of work to make it the pop-metal Thriller he intended the record to be – every instrument and voice recorded separately, instruments being fed through the Fairlight and even the Rockman amplifier that had been invented by Tom Scholz of Boston – and you may understand why the thing took so long to do.

Like Boston’s records, Hysteria bears the air of superreal rock, something which sounds like rock and a bit like pop but somehow seems to have evaded the touch of a human being. Given that Pyromania had only made it to #18 in 1983 Britain, and that its lead single “Photograph,” one of the greatest pop records of the eighties, stalled at #66, it is not unreasonable to imagine the band striving to make something that would break them in their own country.

And so it was “Animal,” an almost immediate top ten hit in Britain, which gave them the domestic breakthrough; a subtle but enticing variation on the “Photograph” model with sublime moments of transition (the “I cry wolf” bridge from chorus back to verse), an Olympian false ending and an instant singalong appeal – but in the manner of gods singing down from the top of their mountain – all resulting in a terrific pop record.

Hysteria is basically twelve variations on Leppard’s one song – but what a song, and what an approach, and perhaps even that perspective is inaccurate; “Love Bites” plays like the Bee Gees marooned atop an Arctic iceberg, but was originally a country song. Songs like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Armageddon It” are strictly Carry On Kerrang! territory, but the humour is good; like a robot AC/DC, you are relieved that they don’t take themselves that seriously.

Which is just as well, as Hysteria contains some of 1987’s most probing sonic adventures whose radicalism is more attractive for not being trumpeted as such; the first Young Gods album, Melody Maker’s record of the year, came out at more or less the same time and was perhaps scuppered by the expectations heaped upon it – a shame, since it and its 1989 successor L’Eau Rouge were hugely innovative records which could and should have changed the game, particularly in the sampler-as-aggressive-battering-ram/Varèse-quoting virtual guitar sense. I even remember “Jusqu’au Bout” being used as the soundtrack to an MM radio commercial! But the singer sang, or growled, in French, and so that, alas, was that in institutionally racist Britain.

As far as Hysteria is concerned, however, you have to applaud the band and Mutt Lange, on a record intentionally loaded with potential hit singles – so much so that its running time exceeds sixty-two minutes, i.e. you need to hear it on one of those new-fangled compact discs, grandad – for frontloading the album with its two least commercial songs. Granted that in this world it’s all relative, but “Women” was actually the album’s lead single in the States, presumably to reassure worried hard rock fans that the band hadn’t forgotten how to rock (it didn’t work, peaking at #60). It sounds like Foreigner gone severely South; the elements of an AoR ballad are all there but they are distended, disjointed – you can’t quite grasp them. In the meantime, how better to begin an album than with the creation of the world, especially if the result ends up sounding like Front 242 doing a full-frontal on “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

“Rocket” is as severe in its adventure as fellow Sheffielders, the early Human League, with its not-quite-random dub drops and unexpected whirlpool echoes into nowhere. Like the League, Def Leppard took glam as a starting point – the Dolls, Mott, Ziggy, Queen – and a lot of the time sound like a super-recharged version of the Sweet. But the beat of “Rocket” is a Burundi/Ant rhythm, and even while Joe Elliott goes through musical memories of his past – and pace Chuck Eddy, he is clearly singing “Jean Genie” rather than “G.G.” – the music’s bottom abruptly drops out halfway through to make way for a strange assemblage of found noises and effects, including Elliott’s own multitracked choir, being played backwards from another song on the album. Compare with “Excitable,” which is like 1994 Primal Scream being dragged through the mire by 1985 Cabaret Voltaire, with a much more dynamic use of the “Dance To The Music” rhythm and an introduction of accelerating heartbeat, panting and climactic scream which could have come straight from The Covenant, The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord, and you see that this band’s investigations are missed at your own peril.

Actually Hysteria generally reminds me, not of other pop-metal or even of glam, but of sixties bubblegum; note the timid Monkees-like shrug of a quiet guitar chord which unexpectedly concludes “Women” or, more generally, the sheer catchiness of even the lesser-known songs, like “Don’t Shoot Shotgun” – Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels live! – or “Run Riot.” “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is the best use of the “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” beat this side of “Let’s Go All The Way,” while the closing “Love And Affection” might as well be Tommy James and the Shondells. “Hysteria” deploys silky, keyboard-dominant AoR tropes and diverts them in a surprising new direction, even if the chorus sounds like the Cowsills (this is a good thing). And when they go for a little bit of politics – the anti-militarist “Gods Of War” complete with obligatory Reagan samples (about bombing Libya) and Fairlight bombs exploding from channel to channel – the sudden rise to atonal fury is genuinely terrifying.

If, however, you were stuck in some no-mark small town in the mid-eighties, and this on the car stereo, or its songs on the car radio, represented a remedy, then it’s easy to see why Hysteria became so huge. True, there was a bit of a gap in the market – i.e. that absented by Van Halen when David Lee Roth left – but Hysteria - the second album of that name to be released by a major Sheffield group in the eighties - is more than that; it is one of the most decisive of eighties pop records, and also one of the least reproducible.

1 comment:

Chris Retro said...

It's the vocal harmonies that are their saving grace for me - they raise some of the tracks (Animal, Armageddon It, Hysteria, Love Bites) here to a level that transcends the more cringeworthy aspects of the remainder.