Monday, April 22, 2013

Kahuna Files: POST-PYRO

     Def Leppard circa 1981 is one of my favorite bands of all time. There was something truly magical about the combination of those five kids from Sheffield: Joe Elliott, Steve Clark, Pete Willis, Rick Savage, and Rick Allen. The three records they made together in just a few short years, as different as each is from the others, comprise a brilliant body of work, they are three of my very favorite records. I include Pyromania because those songs were written and recorded with Pete Willis, as far as I know Phil Collen did little more than overdub a couple of guitar solos and take his shirt off in the videos.

     But what about Post-Pyro? Pete Willis was history and so was Rick Allen's arm. Def Leppard lost the magic. Hysteria might have been the band's most commercially successful album, but it certainly wasn't the most creatively successful. The tragic loss of Steve Clark was just the final nail in the coffin of the magnificent chemistry that the band members once shared. Def Leppard's output after Pyromania is spotty at best, but there are still moments of greatness. Below are my top ten favorite Def Leppard songs that were recorded after Pyromania, or...


10. DEMOLITION MAN from Euphoria (1999)

When Euphoria came out it was marketed as the return of Def Leppard, the album title even ended with the iconic -ia suffix! While you can tell that the band were trying to recapture past glories, the absence of Pete Willis and Steve Clark made it a hopeless endeavor. "Paper Sun" came reasonably close to recreating the Hysteria sound, but seems forced. The first song on the record, "Demolition Man," is a decent upbeat rocker. It might have worked as a Hysteria b-side. 

9. RUN RIOT from Hysteria (1987)

The band debuted this song at the Monsters of Rock show in 1986, a year before the album came out. Rick Allen has professed to hate the song. I like it. Probably the closest to Pyromania that Hysteria gets.

8. PROMISES  from Euphoria (1999)

This is the first single and best song from the Euphoria album. It was written by Phil Collen and some guy who calls himself Mutt, but it's not much of a return to the Def Leppard of old. It's a simple, poppy hard rock tune. Hey, works for me.

7. FRACTURED LOVE  from Retro-Active (1993)

"Fractured Love" was one of the first songs written for the Hysteria sessions, way back in 1984, but the song was not fully completed until 1993 when the band finally finished it for inclusion on a compilation of b-sides and outtakes called Retro-Active. Apparently the song was seriously considered for Hysteria but just didn't fit with the rest of the material. It's a moody, brilliant song that builds ominously and explodes. It's hard to imagine the song fitting well on any of Def Leppard's albums, which I suppose is why they couldn't figure out what do with it for the ten years it took to finally release it. 

6. GIFT OF FLESH  from Slang (1996)

"Gift of Flesh" is a Phil Collen solo composition. Phil has stated that the song was inspired by hearing Rick Allen starting to play "real drums" again. Phil was sitting there listening to Rick bash away and he started playing along and "Gift of Flesh" was born from that jam session. It would be nice to hear the songs from Slang produced differently, I think "Gift of Flesh" could be even better but it's a great song as is.

5. TEAR IT DOWN  from "Women" single (1987)

"Tear It Down" sounds stranded somewhere between Pyromania and Hysteria, but it wouldn't fit on either album. It's a pretty straightforward rock song, a lot of fun but somewhat insubstantial. The first time I ever heard it was when I saw the band surprise everyone with a "new song" on the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards:

What I didn't know at the time was that the song had already been released as the b-side to the first single from Hysteria, "Women." The band re-recorded the song for Adrenalize, castrating it in the process. If you want the real thing you have to buy the "Women" 45.


4. STAND UP (KICK LOVE INTO MOTION)  from Adrenalize (1992)

Such a big deal was made at the time of how long it took for Hysteria to come out after the massive success of Pyromania, but it took even longer for the band to release the follow up to Hysteria. Of course tragedy struck the band during the recording of each record, but when Adrenalize finally came out it only contained ten songs, one of which, "Tear It Down," had already been released as a Hysteria b-side. Nine new songs in five years, and what a pathetic batch of songs it was. The first single from the album, "Let's Get Rocked," is criminally bad, a pitstain on the band's legacy. Apparently every drop of heavy metal had been wrung from the sponge. Most of the songs on Adrenalize are not far removed from the work producer Mutt Lange would soon do with his wife Shania Twain ("Make Love Like a Man" = "Man I Feel Like a Woman"). The writing of "Stand Up" dates back to the Hysteria sessions when, as Phil Collen remembers it, he and Steve Clark wrote the song in the studio. They decided not to include it on Hysteria because it too closely resembled the title track, and they were right. It's not quite as good as "Hysteria," but close. The song was released as the fourth single from Adrenalize. They should have released it as the first single.

3. HYSTERIA  from Hysteria (1987)

I think "Hysteria" is a wonderfully crafted pop song, and I can appreciate a wonderfully crafted pop song for the true work of art that it is, cynics be damned. The interplay of the guitar melody and vocal melody on this song is sonic perfection. I don't believe in "over-produced." What matters is what serves the song, and this song was written to be coddled and polished. The song was born in 1985, based around a Rick Savage riff. Rick and Phil Collen wrote the rest together but they were stuck on the chorus. The song remained untitled and in limbo until Rick Allen came up with the name for the record and it fit the song as well. Presto! Title track!

2. ANIMAL  from Hysteria (1987)

The working title of Hysteria was Animal Instinct and I suppose this song may have been destined to be the title track of that record. It was one of the earliest songs the band began working on after coming off the Pyromania tour in 1984. It was released as the second single from Hysteria and barely cracked the top twenty. It wouldn't be until the release of the fourth single from the album, "Pour Some Vomit On Me," that Hysteria would really take off in the states. In my opinion "Animal" is the best song on the album. Listening to this song you can almost understand why it took the band four years to make the record. A great deal of work went into writing and recording a song like this. Every detail was micromanaged, and it shows. The song is flawless.

1. RING OF FIRE  from "Armageddon It" single (1988)

This was the last song to be cut from Hysteria. Joe Elliott had a creative burst and barfed out "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and just like that "Ring of Fire" was relegated to being a b-side. What a travesty, inclusion of the song would have made Hysteria a much stronger record. "Ring of Fire" sounds the most like Pyromania of any of the band's Post-Pyro output. Joe Elliott credits Rick Savage with writing the bulk of the song. Kudos, Rick. The song wound up on the b-side of the "Armageddon It" single and would also be included on Retro-Active but the band apparently re-recorded the guitars and drums. I hate it when bands do that.

Def Leppard's two most recent albums, X and Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, are not represented on this list because unfortunately neither album is very good and none of the songs made the cut, but I'll make "Hallucinate" from Songs from the Sparkle Lounge an honorable mention.

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