Def Leppard struck gold (well, actually diamond) with their third LP Pyromania. The album was a phenomenal success, eventually selling over ten million copies in the U.S. and being certified “diamond” by the RIAA. The album had a tremendous amount of support from their record label, which gave the band and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange a year to record and an over $1 million budget. This meant the album would have to sell over a million copies just to break even, which was an amazing leap of faith being that the previous album by Lange and the band, 1981’s High n’ Dry, did not do so well commercially. But the gamble paid off as Pyromania sold more than 100,000 copies per week during the calendar year of 1983 and the radio-ready blend of stadium anthems brought the quasi-heavy-metal band to a mainstream audience.
Although recorded meticulously by Lange and mastered for the dominant sound of early eighties rock, the album falls short be a rock masterpiece if not for some sonic glitches, particularly the constant drilling crack-shot of the snare drum, performed by drummer Rick Allen. It seems at places like Lange tries a little to hard to recreate his “AC/DC” sound, when he would have done better just letting the talent of Def Leppard shine through. Most talented here are guitarist Steve Clark and lead vocalist Joe Elliot, who were complemented by the rich vocal harmonies and “guitar orchestra” by the rest of the band.
When recording of Pyromania began, original guitarist Pete Willis was still on board and his rhythm guitar tracks appear on all songs. Willis was fired midway through the recording sessions for excessive alcohol abuse and replaced by Phil Collen, who immediately contributed the lead guitar for the song “Stagefright” on his second day on the job.
Pyromania by Def Leppard
|Released: January 20, 1983 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Park Gates Studios & Battery Studios, London, January–November 1982
|Side One||Side Two|
|Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
Too Late for Love
Die Hard the Hunter
Rock of Ages
Comin’ Under Fire
Action! Not Words
Billy’s Got a Gun
|Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Phil Collen – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass
Rick Allen – Drums
Written by bassist Rick Savage “Stagefright” is a complete, upbeat composition which works perfectly with the established Pyromania sound. Aside from some fake live crowd effects, which is the song’s only real drawback, the overall vibe of hyper sugar-fueled rock is reached eloquently. This pace is set by the opener “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”, which contains a dramatic beginning part that goes through a couple of variations before Clark’s fine main riff kicks in on this anthem would probably fit any classic eighties rock album.
The group shows the compositional diversity when they first retreat to slower, darker, and more measured music in “Too Late for Love”. Written by all members of the band (including Willis and Lange) and reminiscent of some material from their 1980 debut album On Through the Night, “Too Late for Love” is a very high quality and potent song which reached #9 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The only real weak spot on the album’s first side is the closer “Die Hard the Hunter”, which starts with some fake air raid effects and sounds forced and dated. An attempt to be super-melodramatic, the song lacks focus even when it later breaks in full “AC/DC” mode and feels a bit drawn out overall.
The finest track on the first side, is the song which really put Def Leppard on the map as the lead single from Pyromania. On “Photograph”, Elliot’s vocals are at their pristine apex. The song was the band at their peak and commanded absolute attention in early 1983 as the ascending vocals over the chorus hook tell the typical story of stalking and envy which the music drives with a kinetic passion of action. Sonically, there are also some treats, especially during the measured pre-chorus, which contain some slight synths and a cow bell to compliment the heavily distorted guitar riff.
The album’s second side begins with “Foolin'”, which works as an quasi-acoustic ballad before migrating to a later heavy arrangement. Savage’s bass is more potent than on any other track and the song’s multi-part progression works towards the hook, which elevated the song to Top 40 status. The defacto title track, it is clear that everything this album was trying to accomplish is wrapped up in the song “Rock of Ages”. The most indelible moment on the album and one of the highlight’s of Def Leppard’s career. The song kicks off with a German-like nonsense phrase used as a count-in by Lange and it’s title originated from Elliot glancing at a children’s hymn book. There are some charms along the way, such as the almost comical background voices and laughs and the song finishes very strongly, making it the last great moment on the album.
The album closes with some rather mediocre material. “Comin’ Under Fire” could have been another hit song, with the thumping bass and kick beat under the choppy guitar chords of the verse along with the full-fledged chorus chant. “Action! Not Words” is simply terrible, almost a parody of 80s hair metal, and the album would have been better without this song. The melodramatic “Billy’s Got a Gun” completes the weak ending for this otherwise fine album and includes a weird synth percussion during the outro.
Following the breakthrough of Pyromania, the band began writing material for a follow-up, with Mutt Lange initially joining in the sessions. Tragedy struck on New Year’s Eve 1984 when Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. It would take another three years until the band would complete their much anticipated follow-up Hysteria in mid 1987.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.
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