Even now, people still go on about Pyromania, as though that was the definitive Def Leppard album of the 1980s. While completing missing the obvious. That Hysteria was a million times better, more advanced, more successful, musically and commercially.
Let’s stay with the music. For me, Hysteria is the definitive rock album of the 80s. Not Appetite For Destruction or Master Of Puppets or whatever else the conventional wisdom currently is. That was niche music that somehow seeped into the mainstream like blood through the bandages.
Hysteria was designed and built for the widest possible audience, and it found it. Except it did more than that. It also delivered a new, far more elevated form of rock, one that the world had not seen before. Nor, arguably, has seen since.
And it was all down to the producer, Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. Mutt was already a superstar, of course. Had guided AC/DC through their two best albums, in Highway To Hell and Back In Black, had lifted Foreigner and The Cars to heights they could never have dreamed of otherwise. Had even, way back, transformed the Boomtown Rats from a second division pop-punk band into an act of real substance with ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. And had also, it’s true, produced the second and third multi-platinum Leppard albums.
Now, though, in 1987, both Lange and Leppard were poised to take a great leap together into the sonic unknown. They didn’t have to. Another Pyromania would have gone down just nicely thanks. But no, because of Lange, Leppard were about to go through the looking glass into a place neither they nor Mutt would ever be able to find again.
With the 12 tacks – all killer, no filler – on Hysteria.
It wasn’t immediately obvious. No ‘Photograph’ to instantly fall in love with. No ‘Rock Of Ages’ to charge around to. Instead there were the almost subliminal rock joys of tracks like ‘Animal’, which took 10 plays to really get but then never let go, and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, which seemed a more instant hit, until you’d also heard that 10 times and realised it was probably the greatest rock anthem of its age, in much the same way that ‘All Right Now’ had been in its time.
But that was the obvious stuff. The best though was in tracks like ‘Love And Affection’, ‘Love Bites’ and the sublime title track. They all worked as great songs but that wasn’t what made them genius. It was the production, the subtlety, the fact that Phil Collen was recording one string of his guitar at a time and Joe Elliot was singing one line, sometimes one word, at a time, again and again and again – and again – until a year had gone by along with a lifetime of production techniques until they were left with the thrice distilled magic of a million golden moments all somehow fused – into one.
The drums were all electronic too. But not because Rick Allen had lost his arm between albums. The drums on Pyromania were all done by machine too. The reason things were done the way they were on Hysteria was because Mutt was looking to take this one to the other side of the rainbow, just to see how far the rocket could really fly, when injected with the right fuel. The special gear he’d been developing in secret all these years in his night lab, alone and crazy and far too far gone.
And in Leppard, unlike those moody bastards in AC/DC or those egomaniacs in Foreigner, Mutt finally had the right band to make it happen. To do what they were told. Because they were young and still on the upswing too, and looking for adventure. Not just another hit album – they’d already seen all that could be seen in terms of giant hits by the time they were 24 – but something beyond the beyond.
They found it in Hysteria.