Album #517 – Pyromania

Album #517

Pyromania has a unique connection to rock music of today. John Kongos, who programmed the Fairlight CMI synthesizer for this album, is the father of the four members of the band Kongos, who wrote and perform my new favorite song, Come With Me Now. Kongos is a native of South Africa much like this album’s producer, Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Lange changed the sound of Def Leppard overnight. The band was struggling to get radio airplay and recognition with their first two albums. Their third release, Pyromania, was do or die for the band. Tensions were high and Lange’s glossy production style didn’t sit well with many of the band’s members. Lange was known for being a workhorse and a perfectionist in the studio, making band members do their parts over, and over and over again. Because of this, Drummer Rick Allen reportedly threw a drumstick through the studio wall during the sessions.  But, his production style and sound ended up making Def Leppard an MTV and rock music smash. During the making of Pyromania, rhythm guitarist Pete Willis was fired due to excessive alcohol use. Phil Collen replaced him and has remained ever since. Many of Willis’ parts are still included on this album. It also marks the last time drummer Rick Allen would play drums with both arms. He would lose an arm in a car accident in 1984 and have to relearn how to drum using one arm. The sound of this album is a cross between AC/DC (especially Joe Elliott’s vocal style), Def Leppard unique sound and Lange’s pop production of hooky guitars and multi-tracked backing vocals. The backing vocals are purely Def Leppard and became their trademark. Interestingly, Thomas Dolby also guests on the album on keyboards under the pseudonym Booker T. Boffin. Dolby’s keyboards, while sparse, add the synth element to hair metal that would become essential. In fact, Pyromania is a blue print that many bands would follow in that genre into the early 90’s, when hair metal suffered it’s demise. The look  of Def Leppard and the sound of this album and it’s follow-up, Hysteria, were what made hair metal loved by some and hated by others. Def Leppard were clearly innovators in that genre and sadly get written off because of their status as a hair band. The poppy sound made them huge and adored by not only guys, but screaming girls too. Rock of Ages, Foolin’ and Photograph became MTV smashes and the group’s first top 40 hits in the U.S. and Canada. The three tracks didn’t even crack the top 40 in the UK.  Without Lange’s guidance, it’s hard to say where they would have ended up. Even the album cover, which caused controversy of it’s own, doesn’t sum up the feel of this album. Sadly, after the events of 9/11, the cover is even harder to look at without remembering the events of that day. The album cover aside, Pyromania is a great sounding rock and pop album. Luckily, the third time was a charm for Def Leppard. Many artists would not have the same opportunity today.  Other highlights include: Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop), Stage Fright, Too Late for Love, Comin’ Under Fire, Action! Not Words and Billy’s Got A Gun. Overall, I give Pyromania, 4.5 out of 5.

Next: Murmur by R.E.M.

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