Friday 11 December 2020

DEF LEPPARD: Adrenalize


(#446: 11 April 1992, 1 week)


Track listing: Let’s Get Rocked/Heaven Is/Make Love Like A Man/Tonight/White Lightning/Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)/Personal Property/Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad/I Wanna Touch U/Tear It Down


Def Leppard had not intended a five-year gap between Hysteria and their next album; indeed they premiered “Tear It Down” at the 1989 MTV Video Awards ceremony, while both “Tonight” and “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” were written around 1988. Their plan had been for a quickfire follow-up.


But life is what happens, or doesn’t happen, when you’re busy making plans, and the process was slowed down almost irrevocably by the band’s guitarist Steve Clark’s descent into chronic alcoholism; songwriting and recording sessions were abortive and Clark was eventually given a six-month leave of absence from the band to sort himself out, to no avail; in January 1991 he was found dead by his girlfriend on a couch in his front room in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, from respiratory failure caused by a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs (chiefly morphine). He was not yet thirty-one years old.


Clark had helped write many of the songs which subsequently surfaced on Adrenalize, and the band determined to complete and record the album as a four-piece. Demos with Clark’s involvement had been recorded, and the band’s other guitarist Phil Collen had to play all the guitars himself, in many instances playing in close approximation of Clark’s style. He later observed that it was like playing with a ghost.


You can hear a sense of stern mourning in songs such as “Tonight” and especially “White Lightning.” In addition, Joe Elliott’s vocal on “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” betrays a very tangible feeling of grief. It was for this reason that light-hearted slapstick songs like “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Make Love Like A Man” – the latter, Elliott later protested, was a send-up of metallic macho; it was not, he said, as though they had turned into Manowar – were included, to relieve the burden of unrelenting bereavement.


Mutt Lange is only credited here as executive producer – Mike Shipley and the band did all of the hands-on producing – but did contribute to the writing of a lot of the album’s songs, and his imprint across Adrenalize is inescapable. Much of the record, as could have been anticipated, is great pop rather than hard rock as thing in itself. Where it scores over the likes of Waking Up The Neighbours, however, is that its pop essence gives these songs colour, structure and purpose.


Some of it is genius bubblegum glam; the classical samples dotted throughout the second verse of “Let’s Get Rocked” are worthy of Wizzard, and nicely offset the lyric’s double entendres (“I suppose a rock’s out of the question?”). “Heaven Is” repeats the “Photograph”/”Animal” trick of ambushing the listener with an unexpected chord change. “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” really is a structural masterpiece, Elliott’s vocal building up very patiently from hushed brooding to rampant roaring. These are not flat lands, these songs; they move and evolve. Meanwhile, “I Wanna Touch U,” a surefire number one single in 1974, is brilliant in the way Rick Derringer’s “Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo”” is unanswerably brilliant. Yes, it’s all about trying to chat up girls, and is primarily aimed at teenage boys who have never even spoken to a girl in their lives thus far. But it is tremendous, and Def Leppard, in the midst of their mourning, showed determination to ensure that we, and they, would have a good time. “SHIT ALWAYS HAPPENS,” their liner note to Adrenalize concludes. The album sees them shoving away the shit and replacing it with rays of cheeky Sheffield sunlight.