Another one that I wasn’t happy with my original review for. I redid this one, with loads of new pics. Here it is: Pyromania redux!
DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983, 24kt gold Ultradisc II, 2009 deluxe edition)
Pyromania is one of those landmark albums that every melodic rock fan should own: Over 10 million copies sold, four classic hit singles, and a sound that at the time was so new and fresh that everybody took notice. This is before Rick Allen’s accident, before Steve Clark’s death, and before Def Leppard had any serious hits. Three would prove to be their lucky number when they set down to record their third album.
Pyromania is also the only Leppard album to feature a three-guitar lineup, in a sense. Pete Willis was fired mid-way through recording, ironically for alcohol abuse, the same illness that would take Steve Clark 8 years later. Phil Collen (ex-Girl, with Phil Lewis of the future L.A. Guns) was hired to complete the unfinished guitar rhythms and solos. Willis’ rhythm guitar appears on all 10 tracks, making this his final Def Leppard album.
Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis
At some point in the 1990’s, Pyromania was licensed out to Mobile Fidelity labs, who used the original master tapes to create a 24kt gold “Ultradisc II”. The discs are “custom pressed” (don’t know what that really means) on gold, because it doesn’t oxidize (IE, it’ll last longer). Although the back cover states that “all liner notes, photos and artwork from the original LP are faithfully recreated”, this is not so. All the Ultradisc comes with are the lyrics, and nothing else. Not even a producer credit. And the weird thing is, Leppard didn’t even print lyrics in their albums at the time.
The ultradisc comes in its own unique case seen below, and does sound tremendous, I can vouch for that. Does it sound better than the remaster? Hell, I don’t know. I’m no audiophile. They both sound good to me! The 24kt gold is obviously collectible, which is why I still have it, even though I upgraded to the deluxe since then.
The Ultradisc II’s unique case
Now, onto the deluxe. This was freshly remastered. It brings the glory of Mutt Lange’s groundbreaking production to daylight. The liner notes (by one of my favourite writers, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke) reveal Mutt’s obsession: At one point the band were laying down entire chords one note at a time in order to get the right alchemy. Their goal was to create an album that nobody had made before, and they succeeded. (Hard to believe that they would pull off the same stunt twice, and do it again on Hysteria, as different from Pyromania as Pyromania was from On Through the Night!)
This landmark album contains no weak songs: All 10 of its tracks were valuable use of precious vinyl. It even filled the vinyl, a full 45 minutes, pretty close to the maximum afforded by the format. From the melancholy apocalyptic riffage of the power ballad “Too Late For Love”, to the manic gallop of “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”, this album is nearly flawless. Album cuts like “Comin’ Underfire” (tied for my favourite on the album) and “Stagefright” stick to the brain like peanut butter in the mouth. (“Too Late” is my other favourite.)
And that’s not including the hits: “Rock of Ages”, “Foolin'”, and “Photograph”, all classics in their own right, which I certainly hope you already know by heart. The combo of Def and Mutt had, by this point, gotten quite good at writing riffs with hooks, and the songs to go with them. “Rock of Ages” has a life of its own now, radio will never let this one die. “Photograph” was a mid-tempo pop rock classic, pointing the way to Hysteria, four years later….
Unlike the Hysteria and Adrenalize deluxe editions on the market, Pyromania has no B-sides. There were no extra tracks lying around unreleased, and no B-sides available. The liner notes reveal that an 11th song was written, but not much else is known about it.
Instead, the bonus second CD contains an awesome sounding show from the Pyromania tour. It’s important to remember that no live albums or videos were released by Def Leppard until post-Hysteria, so this is the only live release featuring Rick Allen before his accident. Def Leppard sound absolutely ferocious. Joe Elliot’s voice is at its vocal-cord-shredding best, gargling glass like Brian Johnson possessed. Steve Clark and Phil Collen (the new boy) rip and shred on their guitars, and weave them into a wall of thunder (listen to “Switch 625”). The two Ricks, Allen and Savage, keep it rolling on the rhythm, steady as she goes. And then Brian May of Queen even shows up at the end for a CCR cover tune (with a surprise foray into Led Zeppelin)! Some of these songs have never been heard live on a CD before. Indeed, Leppard rarely play anything pre-Pyromania anymore.
I mean, it’s always a treat to hear “Wasted”, isn’t it? Combine that with some great tunage from High N’ Dry, such as “Mirror Mirror” and “Another Hit and Run”. These are some of my favourite Def Leppard tracks anyway, and to hear them live in ’83 by a young and hungry band is really, really entertaining.
Pyromania being their third release, it would have been totally appropriate (and in hindsight very wise, considering the gap between albums) to release this concert as a live album back in the 80’s as the band buckled in for the very hard Hysteria recording sessions. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. At least we get to hear it now!
Pictured below: the three versions I currently own. The original LP, the 24 kt gold Ultradisc II, and the deluxe.