One of my favorite quotes from the late great Roger Ebert is the one about how no great film can be too long, and no bad film can be too short. As I’ve been doing this series, I’ve found that the same concept can easily be applied to albums, since it can be pretty tedious to sit through an album’s worth of songs that you’re not really into, especially if it’s a long one. And that’s pretty much the experience I had wading through the hour-long hunk of butt-rock I’ll be talking about here.
Artist: Def Leppard
Release Date: August 8, 1987
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves It When Bands Shoot For The Middle
The 1980s saw the undeniable commercial peak of bands that were heavy, dumb, and featured an overabundance of free-flowing locks. These bands seemed to dominate the rock landscape commercially, yet when you look at it, most of them aimed to fill one particular niche, which usually reflected the bands’ intentions. The so-called British New Wave of Heavy Metal (which Def Leppard where certainly a part of) had a no-nonsense agenda aimed at rocking fast and hard, and thus mainly appealed to disaffected males. Then on the other end of the spectrum, was the spandex-clad hair metal bands that aimed to create the most bubbliest of rock anthems in the hopes of getting chicks into record stores as well as their pants.
Def Leppard on the other hand, never seemed to have any intentions other than to just sell a shit-ton of records. By the time of Hysteria’s release, they had already done this with the help of producer Mutt Lange on 1983’s multi-platinum Pyromania. Though as the band prepared to mount an even huger follow-up, set backs struck the band when Lange decided not to produce the record and drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident. Yet, Allen continued on playing drums minus his dearly departed appendage, and Lange was eventually brought on to bring his signature crunchy sheen to a band that needed his help in forging another blockbuster hit.
What they came up with was an album that was even more stadium-ready than Pyromania, as it sold several million more copies than that album. And even more than Pyromania, this album was able to bridge the gap between the Maiden-worshipping dweebs and the Poison-banging sluts of America. Also, Def Leppard were simply lucky that during the tumultuous four years between Pyromania and Hysteria, hard rock only proceeded to get bigger and bigger, and thus was clamoring for big dumb anthems like “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
I really wanted to like this album. I mean I’m usually a fan of when hard-driving guitar riffs get in bed with pop-infused melodies. Hell, it was just about a month ago that I was on a big Van Halen kick that convinced me to agree with Billy Corgan’s famous quote that the mighty Van Halen were better than a band like Sonic Youth, because they aimed to appeal to everybody. And you could probably make the argument that Def Leppard were attempting to be the British equivalent of Van Halen by trying to appeal to every person who loved music that fell under the category of “rock” and/or “roll”.
But I don’t know. There’s just something kind of lifeless and generic about Def Leppard’s approach here. Mutt Lange is often credited as being the key figure in forging Def Leppard’s multi-platinum sound, but I find his production style to be simultaneously sterile and obnoxious. It’s already bad enough when you’ve got a throat-scorching lead singer like Joe Elliott fronting your band, but when you add in the ultra-pristine and ultra-macho backing vocals that are exemplified by the inexplicably boneheaded intro to “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, it’s hard not to laugh. And then when you factor in the caveman stomp of the one-armed man on drums, it’s just all a bit too dumb to take. And by the way, I’m not trying to make fun of the guy for losing his arm, since the fact of the matter is that Rick Allen was able to make his drumming sound pretty much the same as it did when he was drumming with two arms. So even though this album does kinda suck, at least it’s like inspirational or something.
Yet the weird thing is, I was almost convinced that this album was better than I was giving it credit for. You see, I ended up watching the documentary on the making of Hysteria that was put out by the Classic Albums series. And the thing about those documentaries is that by showing the step-by-step process that went into the making of a certain album, they have the power to almost convince you that a piece of crap is actually a classic. I mean I was watching all the guys in Def Leppard talk so sincerely about how they poured everything they had in to this album. And then rock critic David Fricke comes in saying how Hysteria was a perfect album, and I’m thinking, “Yeah, maybe he’s right”. Then I actually listen to this thing again and remember how incredibly dated and cheesy it sounds.
Would I Pay Money For This?
No. But if I did I ‘d make sure to buy it on cassette tape.
It seems like the ‘80s were the height of riding around in your mom’s car with a bunch of bro’s while blasting some hard-rockin’ tunes on the tape deck. And I’ve got to imagine Def Leppard were one of the go-to bands for this type of cruisin’. Granted, I don’t currently have a tape player in my car. So I’d essentially be buying a tiny piece of garbage if I were to buy Hysteria on cassette, which I think would be more than fitting for this album.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll make love to Boyz II Men’s II the only way I know how: with my words.
This album fuckin’ rocks! It also kind of sucks. Beautiful backing vocals though.