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This landmark 1983 album - the third long player from Sheffield's Def Leppard - conquered the United States and redefined rock music. It didn't have to be about riffs and screaming about the devil. It could also be about melody and pop sensibility.
It arrived in the stores in January of that year following a 1 year gap between albums. Iron Maiden had pushed ahead even further in 1982 with their 'Number of the Beast' album. Def Leppard looked down and out; rejected in the UK by the leading music papers and openly accused of having sold out to the States with songs like 'Hello America'. But as singer Joe Elliot had pointed out, songs like that had all been written and rehearsed by a teenage Def Leppard in an old spoon factory in Yorkshire.
'Pyromania' was as much a British album as any Duran Duran album was, by being slick and heavily textured. It was a sound which subsequently came to be identified as American, but it was all pioneered in the UK. New guitarist Phil Collen had joined the band after the recording for this album had begun; founder member Pete Willis being pushed out, although Pete's guitar work was still on the final release.
Track 1 is 'Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)' - a particular favourite with Japanese fans at the time. The introduction is brooding and intense and could so easily be by any UK pop band of the era. This gives way to a steady guitar, before a kick-ass 'axe' is unleashed and Elliot starts singing / screaming. Just when it sounded like a Spandau Ballet album, the band tell us exactly what they are all about. They are committed to rock, to the death (or till they vomit at the very least). The guitar solo is short and punchy, followed by a nice chord change, with Elliot singing: 'Rock! Rock! Give it to me'. An excellent start to a rock album. Track 2 follows close behind - a completely different pace altogether. 'Photograph' is the big 'love' song, but it's no ballad. A picture of a model has been seen in a magazine and the fantasy begins. Producer Mutt Lange has added some synth strings to the blend and all of a sudden it's a radio friendly belter and a top 40 smash in the States. So many bands could do a great cover version of this.
Although the next track 'Stagefright' is weaker, it's still a great rock song. Some dubbed crowd chants give way to Elliot screaming 'I said welcome to my show!' A pounding Judas Priest style guitar lets rip. It's all very simplistic, but effective none the less, with a top drawer chorus and frantic guitar solo. Elliot's voice does get lost in the mix at times though. Track 4 - 'Too Late For Love' is another excellent love song. It begins with some 'Blade Runner' bleeps from Mutt Lange and then the band join Elliot for a muted rendition of what will turn out to be the chorus. The chorus at the beginning? A great move, left of centre and unexpected. Someone like Ellie Goulding could strip this track back and do a stark cover version.
Track 5 is 'Die Hard The Hunter' - the introduction combines helicopter rotors with futuristic bleeps and swooshes combined with explosions, like the apocalyptic scenes from the original 'The Terminator' movie. But this introduction predates that film. Then follows a strange, atmospheric chanting of the word 'shotgun'. We are then asked to welcome home the soldier boy from far away. The lyrics leave us in no doubt this lad is mentally damaged by a war. It's Rambo. It is more than that though, when you consider the amount of gun maniacs who went on rampages in the 1980s. The song certainly doesn't glorify the now traditional 'lone nut' with a loaded gun. The lyrics call on him to put the gun down. Great guitar solo on this one too.
Track 6 is 'Foolin' - another US hit single. For the first time in the album we hear acoustic guitars and a gentle voice from Elliot. The song then builds in pace and before you know it we are at a superb pop chorus, with the band singing, 'f-f-f-foolin' in a track Duran Duran would have been delighted to have recorded. The definitive track is next, 'Rock of Ages' - a hymn to rock. 'I got something to say, it's better to burn out than fade away!' is the Neil Young introduction, before a very 1980s guitar / synth riff. There is tremendous vocal and guitar interplay and a premier league chorus. It is anthemic stuff.
Track 8 'Comin' Under Fire' is somewhat downbeat, but enveloped by a strong chorus. The bass and drums are the main instruments on this one. The chorus is like all the others on 'Pyromania' in that it is a group affair. Lots of voices joined together, provided width to the songs. Track 9 'Action! Not Words' starts with a throwaway Keith Richards riff and had the potential to be a weak link in the album. Lyrically it seems to be about making a porno film, but the track is saved by another tremendous chorus.
The final track has similar sentiments to 'Die Hard The Hunter'. When 'Billy's Got A Gun' begins it is slow, very slow. We are transported to a scenes of an angry young man, brooding with a gun. He hates the world around him. This is Colombine 20 years before it happened. Def Leppard have never been about social issues but on 'Pyromania' they seem to have stumbled across one. The lyrics end ominously. A sound like thunder has rung out (a gun). There is blood on the ground and a crowd gathers, 'But Billy Couldn't Wait'. What Billy couldn't wait for is the enigma. Did he shoot himself or has he launched into a mad rampage? The track ends unusually, following a 'Bang! Bang!' lyric a strange dislocated sound like a backwards drum loop open up. This lasts for an entire minute. Possibly it was added due to audio tape length considerations.
And there we gave it. The album sold 7 million copies (mostly in America) within a short space of time. The band didn't get rich, with most of the money going to the UK Government, resulting in the band becoming tax exiles. Along with the follow-up album, it is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. That is a different story altogether. By the end of Leppard's glorious year of 1983, drummer Rick Allen was involved in a car crash and lost his arm as a result. Without 'Pyromania' 1980s rock would have sounded very different. It is not the perfect album - the production is a bit muddy at times and Elliot's voice gets lost in the mix. Howerver the idea of melody and pop with heavy metal had now been considered and proved to work and American bands benefited.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Rock Rock (Till You Drop)
4 Too Late For Love
5 Die Hard The Hunter
7 Rock Of Ages
8 Comin' Under Fire
9 Action Not Words
10 Billy's Got A Gun