WPGM Revisits: Def Leppard – Pyromania (Album Review)

Pyromania Album Review
In 1983, Def Leppard exploded with third album, Pyromania. It featured “Photograph”, “Rock Of Ages”, “Foolin’” and “Too Late For Love” as singles, and rightly propelled it into status as classic.

It was the first album to feature guitarist, Phil Collen, who replaced founding member, Pete Willis. It was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The album basically made the transition from straight ahead heavy metal to glam rock and hard rock, finding much commercial success.

Pyromania charted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and No. 4 on the Canadian RPM Album chart and No. 18 on the UK Albums Chart. It sold over ten million copies in the US, thus being certified diamond by the RIAA.

It will be thirty four years old as of Friday, January 20, and it’s aged better than a lot of material from that particular era. The definition of Pyromania is “an obsessive desire to set fire to things”, which in part explains the album cover. The scope view focusing on the burning building, however, implies maybe the result of an explosion via rocket launcher, and not just some mere troublemaking arsonist.

“Rock Rock (Till You Drop)” hammers in the album epic; drums, guitar and thick keyboards. This is elaborated upon with urgent, muted guitar. Then the stonking riff kicks in, partly syncopated and so addictive. You could compare Elliot’s voice with that of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. The closing minute or so strips back, only to clatter all in like the start.

Lead single, “Photograph”, is equally epic, but more an absolute anthem in the scheme of things. “Look what you’ve done to this rock n’ clown” imploring Marilyn Monroe to be more than a Kodak moment. The chorus is a searching one, one embellished with backing vocals, general vocal arrangements, making it full, rich and bringing forth much vitality.

“I wanna touch you” takes that feeling up a notch with a well-placed key change and subsequent, emotive guitar solo.

Surely the band weren’t suffering from “Stagefright”? Funnily enough, it starts with the clapping of an eager audience. This one’s a driving rocker, a bit more grit than, arguably, previous. The chorus has that vocal arrangement, fulsome and hearty.

“Only a heartbeat away” heralds a guitar solo, in parts scintillating. The chugging guitar throughout lends a certain immediacy, learning lessons of urgency from prior punk rockers. “Stagefright, alright, only a heartbeat away” seems to encapsulate the story of the track’s title.

Was it “Too Late For Love” for these, at the time, pinup boys of rock? It paints a picture or two with the following introduction: “Somewhere in the distance, I hear the bells ring/Darkness settles on the town, as the children start to sing/And the lady across the street, she shuts out the night/There’s a cast of thousands waiting, as she turns out the light”.

An elaborate, extended vocal, “London boys are gazing, girls go hand in hand/With a pocket full of innocence, their entrance is grand”, comes, followed by pounding bass syncopating with drum and guitar. Later the vocals are given room to breathe, with what sounds like the whirl of dangerous wind in behind. The closing minute is dramatic, with inspired lead melody turning the song in a direction unfathomable for those hearing it for the first time.

It’s all or nothing in “Die Hard The Hunter”, which opens with sirens and helicopters. Is the hunter hunting the hunted? Urgent, arpeggios herald a grooving, syncopated rocker: “Let’s welcome home the soldier boy, (Far away, far away)/No angel of mercy just a need to destroy, (Far away, far away)”.

Under this appears haunting keyboard adding real ambience. A real graveness to proceedings. There’s some real guitar hero soloing beyond the midpoint. Then wham. That classically inspired lead guitar melody heralds yet more drama, pausing for adjoining thrashes on the drum.

“Foolin’” is tragic with its clean, acoustic melodrama. “Is anybody out there, anybody there?/Does anybody wonder, anybody care?” really conveys hurt and isolation. “Just waking up from what we had/Could stop good love from going bad”, like the line of a, indeed, fool. Guitar dying to be let off the chain builds climatically until afforded some solo time. Not as big a chorus as the tracks before it, though still solid enough.

Epic “Rock Of Ages” starts unsuspecting. Only that scratchy guitar riff hinting at a future barnstormer. Synths fill out most of the sound, in place, it appears, of the bass. The chorus on this one, moreover, is massive. It conveys, seemingly, the history of man through trouble and strife of the ages. The drums really clap, moody and locking you right in. It’s arguably addictive, in that you only hear the said chorus twice.

The listeners’ ears are “Comin’ Under Fire” next. It takes off where left off, basically. Guitar builds in triumph, before going all out and full of action. The way the bass moodily syncopates with the crawling pound of the drum so simple yet so effective.

Those immense introductory exchanges on the guitar kick in, again, and that bass goes from walking to running, heralding excellent guitar solo. “Comin’ under fire”, with those backing vocals, sound like they burn eternally in hell.

“Action! Not Words” is a little more straightforward than most of what precedes it: “Shock me, make it electric/Shock me, make it last”. The chorus, moreover, is impassioned, brash and imploring. Screeching flourishes of lead guitar wild and free.

The closing minute might remind one of an AC/DC standard (“Let There Be Rock”), whether accidental or homage it’s hard to ascertain: “Lights, camera, sound/I need action” maybe akin to, “Let there be light/Sound/Drums/Guitar/Let there be rock”.

Pyromania ends with weapon in hand in “Billy’s Got A Gun”. It’s good way to end the album. Understated chugging lending a moody feel. “Can you feel it in the air? (There’s danger in the air)/Danger (Such a strange emotion)” just about sums the whole thing up. The ringing, ever present bass a constant that keeps the groove going.

The lyrics of, “Never give him an even break/Getting caught is the chance you take/It could be your last mistake” help you picture this almost cinematic vibe of being a hair’s length from certain death. “You hear footsteps in the night, see shadows on the wall/And the ghostly sound of silence, as the mist begins to fall” is a line, too, very capable of transporting you elsewhere.

The closing minute is an extended synthesiser workout, whizzing, along with drum machine, and whirring before an abrupt end.

There are numerous highlights on this ten track effort, excluding only three. These three themselves aren’t bad as such, they just pale in comparison to the excellent ones. “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)”, “Photograph”, “Stagefright”, “Too Late For Love”, “Die Hard The Hunter”, “Rock Of Ages” and “Comin’ Under Fire” are absolute classics. The latter definitely leaves the best for last.

Just about all the big songs on this effort are fan favourites. They are sequenced, for the most part, really well. The first half is chock a block with “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)”, “Photograph”, “Stagefright”, “Too Late For Love” and “Die Hard The Hunter”. That’s a whole half of the ten track effort utterly exceptional.

The only quibble is that this leaves the second half on the verge of feeling very deflated. You’ve only got “Rock Of Ages” and “Comin’ Under Fire” to contend with. The latter, and by no means least, however, saves the second half. This reviewer holds it in such high regard that he’d say that “Comin’ Under Fire” is definitely worth almost two tracks with its stature. Its apex. A perfectly climatic peak.

Def Leppard are a tight and explosive package, suitably so, very much justifying the album’s title. This is an album’s album, rather than a singles one. Everything comes together excellently, and the tracks really mesh together well. Follow up, Hysteria, almost reaches these heights, but not quite. The latter, of course, more or less a singles album. Def Leppard’s Pyromania can be bought on Amazon here.

Words by Andrew Watson

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