Part Thirteen of the Def Leppard Review Series
Here they were again! A #1 album. Adrenalize eventually sold three million, no small feat during the peak of the grunge era. A step down from Hysteria, but a success. And after yet another devastating loss. Choosing to record without replacing the fallen Steven Maynard Clark, it was up to Phil Collen to handle all the guitar work. He rose to the occasion and the quartet emerged from their years of toil with an album they were satisfied with. And they figured out how to do it on their own, without Mutt Lange tending to every detail.
It all begins with Joe asking the musical question: “Do you wanna get rocked?”
“Let’s Get Rocked” didn’t break any new ground nor did it need to. It served it purpose of putting Leppard back on the charts. But it also highlighted something missing. Where were the riffs? “Let’s Get Rocked” is decidedly unriffy. It relies on a bass groove and guitar pyrotechnics, but the razor sharp riffs of the past are seemingly missing. That didn’t stop it from hitting #1 in the US during a year when bands like Def Leppard were getting dumped by their labels.
One of the most poppy of the new tunes, “Heaven Is”, hits the second slot running. A little of that Steve Clark is present, but this one’s main feature is the melodically constructed vocal melodies. The thick chorus harmony proved that Leppard had learned Mutt’s tricks. Lange did help co-write most of the tracks, but his meticulous studio touch was no longer needed in a producer’s capacity. This time, Leppard produced with Mike Shipley. Mutt was “executive producer”, which pretty much means “quality control”.
The first stumble of album the was second single “Make Love Like a Man”. This cowbell-inflected mid-tempo rocker would have been B-side material five years earlier. Listen carefully for Phil Collen’s “Cockney rhyming rap”.
Fortunately side one is redeemed by one of Def Leppard’s greatest ballads. Demoed during the Hysteria sessions, “Tonight” was the darkest Leppard ballad to date. The standout Rick “Sav” Savage guitar structure is the foundation for a damn special song. There’s Joe utilising his screaming voice a little bit on the chorus. It used to be his trademark, but here reserved only for moments of great expression.
The first side concludes on the Steve Clark tribute “White Lightning”. The brilliant Collen intro is designed to emulate Clark’s trademark guitar drones on “Gods of War”. Tesla tried a similar trick on their own tribute called “Song and Emotion”. In this track, Elliott warns of the dangers of addiction. “You wanna dance with the devil, you gotta play his game.” Clark’s demons are starkly laid out in the words, and the seven dramatic minutes of music are as epic as any of Leppard’s most ambitious moments.
Remarkably, side two opened on another top tier Leppard track. “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” boasted an odd title, and some of Leppard’s catchiest music. Call it a ballad? Sure, why not. It’s somewhere in between ballad and rock tune, but every minute that it’s playing is a minute of the best of Def Leppard. Something about its pulse; its uplifting chime. The undeniable chorus is the icing.
Next is the ode to monogamy called “Personal Property”, not essential Leppard. We do love the part when Joe threatens/screams, “You wanna stay healthy man? Take my advice! You better hit the road Jack, and don’t come back.”
A decent, but syrupy throwaway ballad with the overlong title “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” is the weakest of the three here, but that didn’t stop it from being chosen as a single and going top 10 in Canada and the US. It’s just nothing special given the quantity of superior ballads in the past (and future). Following that is the most pop track of the batch, “I Wanna Touch U”, a bouncy good song if vastly removed from “Wasted” and “Ride in the Sun”.
The 10th and final track is the new version of the familiar “Tear It Down”. This born rocker has been polished up and produced just right for album release. Which do you prefer? The final Adrenalize rendition, or the raw B-side from ’87?
Like Hysteria before, Adrenalize came complete with a number of important B-sides. Perhaps the most crucial of these was a track that could have been a throwaway, but “Two Steps Behind” turned into Leppard’s first acoustic song. This opened doors to entirely new worlds for the band. We will take a closer look at these B-sides when we arrive at the appropriate discs in the CD Collection Volume 2 box set.
With an album completed, released, and on the charts, there was another challenge ahead. Def Leppard were a two guitar band. Phil Collen did admirably well, playing all the guitars on the album. Live, they’d need someone both capable and dedicated. What are the odds of finding the exact right match?
Adrenalize did what it had to do. It kept the band alive and viable. Hysteria was a period of exponential musical growth for Def Leppard. If they couldn’t repeat that kind of experimental innovation this time out, they’d have to give it a shot next time. And they would.
- The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night
- The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
- The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
- The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
- The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings
- The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
- Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
- Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
- In The Round In Your Face DVD
- “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert