With an album as popular as Def Leppard’s Hysteria, the memory of when you first heard it may be overshadowed by the point at which you became sick of it.
As with Def Leppard, so went the fates of pop metal — they reached their height of fame with Hysteria, released in 1987, and it’s arguably one of the last great albums in the genre. The numerous singles released from it kept it on the airwaves for years, and that was part of the problem.
Leppard’s tragedies have been retold many times. The car accident that robbed drummer Rick Allen of his arm in 1984, when they were still red-hot from the breakout success of of 1983’s Pyromania. It took them four years to recover and write and record their next album, which is an eternity in pop culture.
(Speaking for myself, I went from liking “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin'” in elementary school, to pretty much forgetting about them in junior high, and then rediscovering them after becoming an AC/DC fan, and borrowing my best friend’s copy of Pyromania on vinyl in the summer heading into high school. Def Leppard had risen from a musical grave.)
Now there are some (OK, many) who feel Pyromania still stands head and shoulders above Hysteria. They may not like the massively produced, complex sound of the latter, with overdubs aplenty on tracks such as “Rocket” and “Gods of War,” or that the band’s sound had softened even on straight-ahead rockers such as “Animal” and “Armageddon It.”
But Hysteria has a complexity and unity many of the other pop-metal albums at the time lacked (Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and Poison’s Open Up and Say Ahhh… come to mind). This was Def Leppard doing their best to equal their ’70s-era heroes such as Mott the Hoople and Queen — and in trying everything they were capable of, they made it work. In 1987, merely releasing Pyromania, Part II wasn’t going to cut it (though on the Deluxe Edition of Hysteria and on Retroactive, you can hear evidence of that in songs ultimately cut from the album).
And when it works, it really works. If the first single, “Women,” failed to ignite the charts, “Hysteria” was a silver-filigree power-ballad that hit all the right notes. That and the even-slower “Love Bites” may be fodder for critics who argue Def Leppard had lost their edge; but since Hysteria was unusually long for a rock album at the time at just over an hour, it’s not as though there isn’t a lot more to listen to here.
Galloping screamers like “Run Riot,” are as rambunctious as anything off their previous albums, and the aforementioned “Gods of War,” is a layered antiwar song more epic in sound than even “Billy’s Got a Gun” off Pyromania. And though it owes a lot to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is a great song in its own right.
Did the huge number of singles contribute to overplay, and eventual audience fatigue? Probably. And it’s also probably why when Def Leppard released its next album, Adrenalize, in 1992, after the explosion of grunge, its success would be impossible to duplicate. But that doesn’t mean Hysteria isn’t a great album.
For the completist, the Deluxe Edition is the one to get. On two CDs, you get the entire album as well as a huge collection of unused songs, live versions, single edits, and other hard-to-find songs. “Tear it Down” and “Ring of Fire” are the best of the Pyromania-esque songs the band eschewed for Hysteria, while live versions of “Women” and “Love and Affection” show the band ready to blow the doors off with what was at the time their new material, and are far better than the studio versions.
The best surprise is their live cover of Alice Cooper’s “Elected” — which the band infuses with their own sound and energy so completely, it sounds more like a Leppard original.
As for the extended singles, it’s mixed. “Animal” is not improved by pulling it out an extra minute or two, whereas “Armageddon It” works better in the arrangement given it on the single version. And for anyone who remembers the video for “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” the shivering “bomb-bomb-bomb” intro is there on the single (though the rest of the edit, while good, doesn’t match what they used in the video).
The liner notes from the original album are reproduced, including the fantastic photo that sums up the struggle Def Leppard went through to make Hysteria.
A new piece by David Fricke covers the album’s recording, with new interviews by the surviving band members.
If you want to understand pop metal in the ’80s and what made it great, there are only a few albums you really need. Hysteria belongs right at the top.
- Bludgeon Riffola, 1987 (Deluxe Edition, 2006)
- Four and a half stars out of five