Saturday, January 24, 2004

#93) Def Leppard - Hysteria (I checked it out from the Salisbury, MD public library the previous summer but finally bought a used cassette of the album in Boston over Thankgsiving break 2002)

Mutt Lange doesn't produce albums so much as entertainment monoliths. They're meant to sell consistently for two years and dominate radio waves for eternity and, as far as I'm concerned, Def Leppard's Hysteria remains his finest achievement both commercially (the album is one too many A-sides away from sharing the same structure as Singles Going Steady) and artistically. If it seems unfair to credit the producer rather than the band itself, it might be because these guys starting blowing goats the second Lange left them to their own devices (though their pre-Lange work is strong enough that maybe he just pushed them so far into the world of overdub majesty that there was no returning to what they could achieve by themselves, which was OK AC/DC wanna-be stuff).

Anyhow, Hysteria. These arena-filling cybernetic creampuff epic actually frighten me sometimes, especially the vocal samples over the extended drum break in "Rocket," which sounds so disturbingly inhuman that I'm surprised these guys were able to push the song into the U.S. Top 20. Most music implies a cyborg-like quality through clunkiness, but Def Lep's futurism is far more fluid, like an H.R. Giger painting. It renders the hooks on songs like "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Armageddon It" superheroic and surreal, something the band liked to offset with bad haircuts and lots of denim (robots do not wear denim).

Their warm-bloodedness is further made clear by the ballads; the harrowing questions raised by "Love Bites" make me wonder if long-term relationships could possibly work while the monumental beauty of the title track reaffirms why people bother to find out. It's the human heart beating beneath the metallic sheen that makes Hysteria's arena-rock metropolis seem somewhat utopian. Though to cut down on the bloat, I could live without "Love And Affection" and especially "Women" though (ooh, take THAT out of context!).

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