In the doldrums of the late 80s metal was transitioning. There was a marked divide between the poppy, glam stuff which generated serious airplay and which kept the world’s cocaine suppliers profitable and heavier music which desired to push the genre’s boundaries further. Sheffield’s Def Leppard had fallen very comfortably into the former category with the release of 1983’s Pyromania but an unusually long break for popular music left people wondering how they would remain relevant. Worse, this gap was littered with failed producers and lost limbs as the band apparently struggled with what they wanted to be. Regaining their balance, the band doubled down on their old producer and drummer, confronted their problems and compiled their finest collection of songs. 30 years later and Hysteria still remains a stalwart for glam metal and hard rock which is why it’s the subject of today’s 570 words.
Hysteria is hair metal reduced to a fine paste. It has the girls, the melodies, the vocal harmonies, the schmaltzy lyrics AND the chest hair. It’s produced with that pleasant 80s guitar tone which was popular, plenty of synthesized effects and is buffed to a gleaming shine. There’s crystal clear separation in the mix and it was evidently written and produced for maximum accessibility and groupy-acquisition. While at the harder end of rock, Def Leppard were never oriented around riffcraft. Instead, catchy vocal harmonies and guitar-vocal syntheses are the focus. And quite right too: a number of these songs are stone-cold classics of the genre. It’s difficult to not revel in the histrionic “Love bites! Love bleeds! It’s bringing me to my knees!” from “Love Bites,” and the overtly sexual, silly swing in “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was what first drew me to the band. Most memorable is the ironically muted title track which has a chorus which can never be forgotten.
But it’s also pleasing that Def Leppard didn’t forget their rocking roots. Hysteria is substantially a hard rock album. Nowhere is this more evident than by Rick Allen ably executing his drumming duties despite severing a fucking arm. The other instrumentation boasts fat rhythms, warm bass and a classic rock sensibility in all but the most exuberant guitar passages. The groove is insanely strong on “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and the lead on “Armageddon It” is good for about 183 million head nods per minute (HNPM). It is, quite simply, a joy to hear and sends the pleasure center of my brain into overdrive within a few notes. If it weren’t so ridiculous in its sexual advances 1, I’d almost describe it as wholesome, nourishing and feel-good. It’s the sort of music with which one could introduce their kids to hard rock.
While no track here is the best ever produced by the band (that honor goes to the delightfully overwrought “Have You Ever Needed Someone so Bad?”), it is by far their best album. Sure, there are flaws. Quite a few of the tracks could easily lose a minute from their weird intros or excessive fifth choruses. The album is consequently less snappy than it could be. Indeed, it’s arguable that the front half outweighs the back for quality. But Def Leppard are English rock royalty and it’s this album which cemented that status. See past the hair and make-up and you meet the eyes of a serious band who wrote seriously good music.