It has been thirty-two years since Def Leppard released their penultimate album. There are those who would disagree with that claim. Some fans believe that the “real” Def Leppard ceased to exist after 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry and the subsequent departure of original guitarist Pete Willis. Others feel like 1987’s Hysteria, which spawned seven videos, is the highlight of their storied career. To these fans, the death of Steve Clark signaled the end of the band as they knew it. There are convincing arguments for all three viewpoints but I am writing this so I will stick to MY opinion.
I do want to go on record as saying that I own all of Def Leppard’s albums, even their most recent live effort which was recorded in Las Vegas. I can honestly say that I can find at least one or two good songs on every album. I will also admit that 1996’s criminally overlooked Slang is near the top of my list when it comes to Def Leppard albums. The experimentation didn’t sit well with some fans and the musical climate just wasn’t conducive to them having a hit album at the time. Still, I think it’s a great album. That being said, I want to go back and discuss Pyromania, which was my (and many others) introduction to the boys from Sheffield.
I think it would be impossible for me to accurately describe my first impressions now, over three decades later. I can sit here and make intelligent comments about how I should have felt but that would not be explaining what I felt as a thirteen year old kid in rural North Carolina. I can remember seeing the videos on M-TV and being absolutely mesmerized. Def Leppard wasn’t the first “metal” band that I experienced but they were revolutionary to me. I had already seen Quiet Riot’s video for Cum On Feel The Noize so I knew I liked this heavy metal stuff.
Even thought I thought it was all the same, there was a difference between Quiet Riot and Def Leppard. There was a difference between Def Leppard and bands that I would discover the next year (Twisted Sister and Motley Crue). I thought Quiet Riot had a couple of good songs but that was it. The same thing went for Twisted Sister and Motley Crue. Pyromania was good from start to finish. I knew that it had better songs. Those other bands had cool songs but they also had some crap on their albums. Def Leppard were better.
That, however, wasn’t the biggest difference. I have never looked at Kevin DuBrow, Dee Snider, or Vince Neil and thought, “Man, I want to look like that guy.” I never wanted to sing like any of them either. They were okay but nothing that I wanted to emulate. Joe Elliot, on the other hand, was the coolest looking guy I had ever seen. I wanted one of those Union Jack t-shirts and the black leather pants with hand cuffs hanging from them. I wanted the shaggy hair and, most importantly, I wanted that voice. I know that different people have opinions about who the quintessential rock star is. Robert Plant and David Lee Roth are often batted around as THE guys to be like. To me, it was Joe Elliot.
The first time I ever fashioned a clip-on earring was after seeing the video for Photograph. I didn’t dare wear it around my parents but I would put it on at school and wear it until someone (usually a teacher) asked me what I had in my ear. It may seem silly now, but I would not have even wanted an earring if I hadn’t seen Joe Elliot wearing one. My parents didn’t let me grow my hair out long (I never really tested them on it) but I wanted hair like Joe’s. It wasn’t long to the point of being feminine, but it was long enough to show that he was a rocker. Once again, it may sound silly, but we’re talking about the musings of a thirteen year old kid. The only other rock singer who actively affected the way I dressed was Brian Johnson and his flat cap. I STILL wear them to this day, but it wasn’t quite the same. I could almost get away with looking like him. Joe Elliot, on the other hand, was the guy I would have looked like had I been able to.
There are other reasons why Pyromania sticks out to me. It has one of the coolest and most iconic album covers of all time. I remember sitting there are looking at it for hours, trying to draw it. The jagged logo was soon scrawled on all of my notebooks and my gym bag. I knew I wanted to be “metal” and to me, Def Leppard was the metal thing out there. I would later discover Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and other British bands through M-TV but it was Def Leppard that first reeled me in. They were the beginning for me. I do realize that Metallica’s first album came out the same year as Pyromania but that kind of stuff was WAY underground to someone like me. If it wasn’t on M-TV or the radio, I didn’t know about it.
You may be thinking, “You’re talking about Joe Elliot’s hair and album covers, what about the music?” Quite simply, I think it’s good. I already confessed that I like just about everything they’ve done. There have been some stinkers along the way but for the most part, they have been consistent. I know there are those who accuse them of selling out and not being a “metal” band anymore. Those accusations are true. They are not writing the same kind of music now that they were way back then. I don’t think they should be. They lost a founding guitarist after their second album and then lost the other one following Hysteria. They also met Mutt Lange and he, for better or worse, guided them along for several years. On top of that, they have gotten older. They aren’t the same band and will never be.
I am one of those fans who believe that they did lose something after Pyromania. They had to adjust to their drummer losing his arm. They had to adjust to the explosion of M-TV and the changes that it caused. Def Leppard evolved partly due to the changes they caused. Hysteria gets blasted by a lot of people for being too polished but Pyromania is pretty slick too. There are drum machines and synthesizers on it too, they just don’t jump out and hit you like they do on Hysteria. It’s still a guitar-driven album with enough of the grit from their early stuff to keep fans satisfied. In many ways, it WAS the last original Def Leppard album. They were a drastically different band from Hysteria on.
If I were to sit down and make a top twenty list of Def Leppard songs, six of them would be from Pyromania. No other album has more than three. That should say something.