Despite the major setbacks suppressing the release of Def Leppard’s “Hysteria,” most of which was likely figuring out how exactly to move on after Rick Allen’s accident that cost him his left arm, the album had no problem with selling like hotcakes once it was finally released. The album spawned as many hit singles as “Thriller” had done just under five years before. Most of the tracks have grown into fan favorites and have even become iconic pieces of the era.
Not all Def Leppard fans were equally impressed at the time of the release. Numerous metalheads who enjoyed the previous release, “Pyromania,” were turned off by the poppier sound the band was assembling. While “Pyromania” sonically borrowed heavily from bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, etc. “Hysteria’s” sound was decidedly more unconventional. Production values were much more costly and the drums were mostly electronic to accommodate for Rick Allen’s condition. And just as a heads up for those who don’t know me: I am a great early Def Leppard fan. I consider “Pyromania” one of my favorite albums of all time (possibly even top ten material). During my reviewing process of the album, I had to constantly remind myself: “Don’t compare this to ‘Pyromania.’ This is it’s own album.”
The new sound comes about upon the first listen of “Women,” one of the album’s many singles. Sure enough, the band still knows how to make a great rock song. The verses of this song remind me of the earlier “Rock of Ages.” Both tracks groove very naturally and implicate a very robotic feel similar to the verses of the Foreigner song “Jukebox Hero”. I cannot tell whether it is keyboard or if it just a guitar or bass with odd effects added. It moves at a slow tempo, but that doesn’t stop it from leaving a long-lasting effect on the listener. Either way, the track is admittedly pretty freaking awesome.
Another single that really stands out for me is “Animal.” Sure it may sound cheesy now, but back in the late 80’s this was not out of place in the slightest. One feature I much enjoy is the contrast in feel between the verses and the choruses. The verses are presented in a laid-back manner. The chorus follows up by building more and more, incorporating an uplifting attitude to the track. I love this song and I never found myself becoming tired over it during the reviewing process. Compared to other singles such as the arena rock staple “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the obligatory slow-jam power ballad “Love Bites,” this one stands out much more for myself personally (not to say that the other two are bad per say).
Yet another single, “Armageddon It,” traces back to the “Pyromania”-era Def Leppard. What I mean by this is that the track demonstrates a fun, energetic and carefree approach very similar to older Leppard songs such as “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop).” The song arrangement is expertly concocted and moves along quickly for being five and a half minutes. Almost every performance on “Armageddon It” is very reminiscent to the band’s previous albums, showing that they haven’t entirely let go of their heavy metal roots.
“Don’t Shoot Shotgun” is another energetic piece, albeit a much less recognized one. While about as simple sounding as a few AC/DC tracks (especially the riff right before the solo), the song is a great listen. It moves at a slightly-above-moderate tempo and traces back to the lively atmosphere of the pre-“Hysteria” age. “Run Riot” follows the same path and the result is something that sounds like should be played in a huge arena. “Run Riot” feels like an anthem if ever there was one. I think one key contribution to that kind of sound is the simple but heavy drum sound. For having only one arm during this album, Rick Allen knows how to lay it on heavier than most other popular 80s bands could.
The song “Rocket” moves at a relatively slow tempo, only broken by double timing the rhythm every once in a while. One feature that helps this song move along is the percussion section, which gives a tribal feel to the song. Kind of odd territory for Def Leppard to cover, but the song works out in the end thanks to the drum and vocal performances. “Gods Of War” fits into the genre of pop metal for me, as the guitar riffs are considerably heavy, but it does sound vigorously produced as well as radio-friendly. Not necessarily a detriment, but there are definitely better tracks throughout the rest of the album.
Now the title track “Hysteria” is another song that I absolutely love. My reasoning is almost the exact same as for “Animal.” The verses act very quietly, most of the space occupying Joe Elliott’s vocals, but the chorus really builds up the song to a great degree. The song, while not nearly as heavy as most songs on “Pyromania”, fits with the rest of this album very well, capturing a remarkably 80s rock vibe similar to older Bon Jovi songs. Take that whatever way you will, but I certainly like the track.
To slow down my excessive praise just a little bit, I’ll talk about what is probably my least favorite song of the album, which is “Exciteable.” While starting off with a guitar riff that sounds absolutely nothing like Def Leppard at all, that problem is quickly changed for a much more tolerable riff. But my biggest complaint with the tracks involves how little risks it takes. If you randomly go through Def Leppard songs, you will more than likely come across one that has many hooks and changes that somehow fit perfectly with the rest of the song. “Exciteable” keeps the same notion going on from beginning to end, which ultimately makes the track just about forgettable for myself. Unfortunately another song falls into that category as well and that would be the album’s closing track, “Love And Affection.”
Is "Hysteria” better than “Pyromania?” For me, no. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t love this album, and I do. It took balls for Def Leppard to release something so unexpectedly different from what they were known for. And most importantly, it took an abundance of talent to make it work so well. Waiting a little bit longer for the album because of the numerous complications raised expectations, and “Hysteria” blew those expectations away.