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Monday, October 24, 2011

Def Leppard, "Pyromania"

Def Leppard
Mercury (1983)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

There are some acts that simply do not belong in books that claim to contain the thousand best albums of all time. Def Leppard is one of these bands. What's worse is that Def Leppard has two entries in this publication (1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die...Fortunately 1000 Records To Hear Before You Die had enough sense to stay away from Def Leppard). Had the editors veered a bit farther from the mainstream, they surely could have found two better entries than "Hysteria" and "Pyromania." Jazz, classical, and a hundred other genres ignored. But, ultimately, the playlist of this blog is not in my hands, but theirs. So let's get this over with.

From a strict sales perspective, "Pyromania" certainly belongs, as did its follow-up, "Hysteria." "Pyro" has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S., but sales is the ultimate story of Def Leppard. Its first two albums failed to make a serious dent in the American market, and so for round three, they went to the proven Robert "Mutt" Lange for help. Lange surely recognized a hint of AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson in Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott's yowling. Lange had turned DC's "Back in Black" into the second best-selling album of all time, and he had to be sure he could do the same for Def Leppard. He, more or less, did. Aside from the sales and producer, it would be a shame to compare the two bands any further.

Elliott opens the album about as Brian Johnson-esque as he could, on the track "Rock Rock (Till You Drop)." But in reality, his voice is more similar to Dr. Rockzo, the "rock 'n' roll clown" who makes frequent on the animated metal satire, "Metalocalypse." This is to say, his voice is obnoxious. AC/DC's songwriting is full of humorous double entendres and catchy hooks, the likes of which cannot be found on "Pyromania" (although "Pour Some Sugar on Me" would later live up to DC's standards). Finally, DC's guitar approach was riff upon excellent riff with the occasional solo flourish, while Phil Collen of Leppard makes up for the band's lack of recognizable riffs by summing up the '80s in a series of over-the-top solos.

The singles are, for the most part, underwhelming. Despite VH1's adoration of "Photograph," it is nothing more than a tale of Elliott's creepy post-mortem fascination with Marilyn Monroe. "Rock of Ages" is so remarkably prestigious that The Offspring stole the intro for their even more classy "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)." "Too Late For Love" doesn't live up to the band's other ballads, like "Bringin' On The Heartache" and "Love Bites." The only redeeming track here is "Foolin'," which manages a halfway catchy hook.

Undoubtedly, this post makes me seem like a Def Leppard-hater, and for the most part, that's accurate. But, if you insist on a Leppard entry in the thousand best albums ever, at least stick with "Hysteria," which is a bigger and much better version of "Pyromania."

INTERESTING FACT: There are no Def Leppard songs featured in the musical "Rock of Ages," which is based on '80s rock and of course, named after the Leppard track. This is because the Universal Music Group did allow the musical's producers to get licensure for any of its songs. The song is often performed legally, following the final curtain call, for good measure.


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