The trick is to be able to convince those of you snickering right now that Def Leppard’s Pyromania is worthy of a 5-star review, even though the album has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone
But I get it, and I understand that sales don’t always translate into worthy records, but you’d be surprised at how often they really do.
To start with, I think it’s best to acknowledge that Def Leppard set out to make a commercially viable record, something that transcends the hard rock corner they had been placed in. Because Pyromania is an album that strategically tries to break out of that mold in order to get a larger audience, and if you’ve read about the band’s hometown of
Sheffield, you understand why that
was an important thing for them.
That blueprint, which probably wasn’t even discussed in much detail, is based on the band’s prior work with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange on High ‘n Dry, which is actually a record that I prefer over this one. Regardless, High ‘n Dry gave the band a chance to work with the same producer that worked on AC/DC’s last three records at the time. AC/DC was the band that they were always compared to in terms of riffs and content, so the match made sense.
It also made them rich. But because Mutt Lange is such a bitch of a guy to work with, it would have been easy for them to say “Fuck it!” and find someone else to man their follow up, someone with a more pleasant demeanor and a less strict work ethic.
They didn’t. And Lange took the opportunity to not only drill the band into an obedient bunch of rock and roll workers who took every ounce of criticism to heart, indulged in every bit of studio window dressing that he conjured up, and delivered on every take that was asked of them, prompting Lange to supplant a normal count-off with “Gunter glieben glauchen globen,” just to bring some levity to the insane number of takes he demanded.
But a producer can only be as good as the material that he’s asked to work with, and in that regard, Def Leppard provided him with 10 cuts that were strong enough to capture an audience, even in their most basic form.
They run the gamut of the obligatory rock anthem “Rock Rock (‘Til You Drop”), which gives teenagers a pass for being a bit naughty, because “Your mama don’t mind what your mama don’t see!”
We took those words to heart during the summer of 1983, where this album and Prince’s 1999 shared equal blockbuster billing, blaring out of every car window that cruised Main Street as some point on Friday and Saturday night.
It’d be easy to suggest that my high praise for Pyromania is only the result of soft focused nostalgia, and I’d be willing to give that criticism some validity. But then I’m reminded of the fact that we’re no longer speaking about bands like Autograph or Britny Fox today, and it rests upon the reality that both of those bands-and any other band that attempted to follow Def Leppard’s lead on pop rock appeal-simply did not have the same amount of really good songs to work with.
Even the ballads are better than they should be, with “Too Late For Love” being a prime example. There’s the riff, the stupid Mutt Lange sound effects, and then there’s the tale of a woman who gives it up too soon. Elliot brings no sympathy to her plight, declaring “When it comes to playing life/She always plays the fool,” giving thousands of teenage boys a reprieve for their complete lack of warmth in chasing after the ladies while giving those very same women a song that they can relate to in the slow tempo package.
On the cut “Rock Of Ages,” Elliot declares that “it’s better to burn out than fade away,” but after kicking guitarist Pete Willis out of the band just prior to the recording of Pyromania for excessive drinking, it’s hard to take that claim very seriously. This was a band that enjoyed the success that their previous album High ‘n Dry very much, and after seeing the bump in pay that Mutt Lange helped secure for them, they were very willing to sober up and tolerate the producer’s unhealthy attention to detail.
Except for Willis, of course, who’s termination provided an opportunity for Phil Collen to come into the fold, take off his shirt, and similarly enjoy the windfall of cash that was about to fall in his lap.
I’m still working from the original cd pressing, which is a step-up from the original music cassette that I originally had. It’s plagued with Lange’s now-dated production and I have no idea if the re-mastered version sounds any better, but I’d be surprised if it does. Amazingly, for an album that’s emotionally and sonically tied to the 80’s, Pyromania remains an enduring piece of heavy pop rock that satisfies both men and women tied to the decade it represents while finding a new audience for their offspring who are already going through the same dramas that this record agelessly documents.