Another massively successful rock album today, although the contrasts with Guns N’ Roses are notable. In some regards, I looked at Guns N’ Roses as a much-needed reset as British pop-metal giants Def Leppard return with “Hysteria”. More mainstream in sound, “Hysteria” dominated the airwaves and music television with every bit the same level of success as Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses. All three albums spawned many radio and music-television friendly releases, as well as years of successful arena touring. My friend Lorenzo, who escaped Greeley after one year of college, even caught on with Def Leppard as a roadie for this tour. I look back on this album with many memories, and mixed reviews. Many of the songs remain huge even in today’s classic rock programming. Some of them are a bit dated, some are cursed by excessive airplay, and most of my favorites are on the slower, power-ballad side of this album. That said, I can appreciate the huge hit they created with producer “Mutt” Lange, and I even found a couple of the “filler” tracks I liked a lot, which doesn’t happen very often.
To their credit, this album was an airplay monster, and the first six songs are all well-known to those from that era. The first two songs, “Women” and “Rocket”, while successful hits, are two of the more generic and less interesting songs, particularly from those that released as singles. I’m not quite sure what Joe Elliott is singing about on “Animal”. The melody makes me think this is some kind of love song, and the sweet chord progressions and chorus suggest the same. I find it to be one of the more appealing tracks on the record, along with the next ballad, “Love Bites”. They are both a bit cliché, but in some regards the entire 1980s was cliché, so I still like these songs, particularly “Love Bites”.
Probably their most famous and enduring song from this record is the rocker “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. It isn’t as decadent or untamed as Guns N’ Roses, but it certainly taps into the same carefree and good-time mindset that defines much of rock and roll. It took me way too long to realize that Joe sings “One lump or two?” after the line “Do you take sugar?”, but I appreciate my friend Mike for explaining it to me and it certainly makes sense with the rest of this unforgettable song, love it or hate it.
The sixth song in a row to be a successful single, “Armageddon It” comes next. I will put this in the same category as “Animal”, in that while easy enough to listen to, and perhaps rather catchy to some, I have no idea what Joe Elliott is talking about here either.
“Gods of War” comes next, and it is the first non-single I arrived at on the album. Oddly enough, it is a quirky song that I actually enjoyed, more so than many of the other tracks on the record. In what I assume is an anti-war track, we are handed some Ronald Reagan soundbites at the end of the track, as Ronnie was essentially the unchallenged face of world leadership by this time as the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse.
After what are two completely forgettable songs, the last big hit from the record comes on, the title track. I have to say that “Hysteria” is my favorite song from this record. It is a simple rock ballad, but it is just a very well-done song of affection that is remarkably easy to enjoy. Call it a guilty pleasure if you must, but I really like this song a lot.
Following one more uneventful song, the album ends with “Love and Affection”, another unsung track that surprised me how much I enjoyed listening to it. In total, this album stands up reasonably well to the test of time, and it certainly is a signature album from the MTV-Classic Rock run of the late 1980s. I will always appreciate and respect how the band stood by drummer Rick Allen after he lost his arm in an auto accident, custom-designing a setup that maximized usage of his legs and electronic percussion. Phil Collen has to be one of the most physically fit rock stars ever, and one who actually can justify playing each night without his shirt on. The rest of the lineup stayed intact through this record, even though the demons of alcoholism were catching up with Steve Clark. As time passed, my interest in Def Leppard waned, but I will always appreciate their run of success that peaked with this blockbuster album.