Mercury Records, 1983
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/21/1997
What the hell has happened to me?
When I was younger, I loved Def Leppard and their music. They were a cool band, and a popular form of heavy metal of the time. "Photograph" was a staple on MTV, as well as on the radio, and I thought at the time their album Pyromania was incredible.
Going back through memory lane while walking through the now-legendary Pierce Memorial Archives (bring a chair and a sandwich), I found my beat-up tape copy of Pyromania, and decided to give it a spin. (Fortunately, I have tape decks and CD players - as well as mini-fridges stocked with Old Style - strategcally placed throughout the Archives.)
To my surprise and horror, I found myself disappointed with the album. Had I been wrong all those years ago? Was Def Leppard just a halfway decent band who came in at the right time? Was I...oh, my God... growing up?
To answer the last question… naaaahhh, as my fascination with bands like Motorhead proves. And I won't deny that Def Leppard happened to be in the right place at the right time, which allowed them to capitalize on the popularity of the then-infant music video technology.
No, the problem with Pyromania is simply age - 14 years since its release, it has just not aged as well as some albums. What fit in with the times in 1983 now sounds hideously out of place.
Joe Elliott's sore-throat screaming on songs like "Rock! Rock! Till You Drop" (never one of my favorites) now grates like cheese on a knife blade. It is difficult - sometimes painful - to listen to. The keyboard use has that distinctive mid-80's sound to it, sending the listener for another ride in the old time capsule. The two-guitar attack of Phil Collen and the late Steve Clark just doesn't have the bite to it that it used to.
And the hits? Well, "Photograph" is still somewhat enjoyable to listen to, but others feature the falsetto vocals from band members that make it sound like they were whacked in the kiwis with a big stick prior to recording their tracks. There were times my cat howled with pain when she heard them. These are sounds that just don't seem like they were made by human beings. "Rock Of Ages" is a little more low-key with these vocals - but not by much.
One fact has remained constant through the passage of time - when the band's songwriting was off, the results were putrid. "Stagefright" and "Billy's Got A Gun" are two songs which show the limitations of Def Leppard's songwriting skills (which would be somewhat sharpened on Hysteria, an album I'll eventually feature here).
After the death of Clark, I made the comment in a newspaper review of Adrenalize that Collen was a better lead player than he was a rhythm guitarist. Collen's leads on Pyromania attest to this, while the rhythm guitar tracks on cuts like "Photograph" shine. Rick Allen's drumming was very powerful on this, the last album he recorded prior to the car crash that would cost him one arm.
To an aging metalhead like myself, criticism of an album like Pyromania may seem on the verge of blasphemy. Unfortunately, the truth is more painful than the illusion. After over a decade, Pyromania has lost its spark - and some would argue, so has Def Leppard - but that's another argument for another column.
And my fascination with Motorhead? Well, I guess we'll talk about that sometime next week.