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Pyromania is one of the true touchstones of popular metal in the 80's, standing its ground against Screaming for Vengeance, Shout at the Devil, and Stay Hungry, the record's massive singles grabbing airplay to this day. And wow, what a barrage of singles to wow and amaze, insanely popular blockbuster "Photograph"(worst track on the album in fact) leading the pack of brilliantly played and insidiously composed chartbusters that defined the hair era.
Now, I've spun this album dozens, maybe hundreds, of times, and one thing that strikes me is the amount of filler. Yeah, the singles alone push it into the stratosphere, but the filler tracks bring it down. And the sad thing is, it's probably the vaunted production that weighs them down a bit, songs like "Stagefright" and "Coming Under Fire" sort of feeling both too raw for the steely brilliance on display elsewheres and too polished to really give the impression of rebellion or aggression.
Who cares though really? Phil Collen and Steve Clark are as underrated a guitar tandem as there ever was, both clever musicians with very respectable chops, Rick "soon to be one-armed" Allen writes some clever and powerful stuff (remember, he didn't really play on the record), Sav's a solid bassist (even if he is a little too smiley), and Joe, he's well, Joe. Man, could that guy scream or what? He had as metal a voice as you could want, shredding screams and a really soaring range when he let it go. Gotta put him up there with Sebastian Bach as the best all out hair vocalist. When these guys come together (with Mutt Lange of course), sometimes there's magic. And sometimes there's Adrenalize, more on that when it comes...
Lightning strikes often in that fashion on Pyromania, yielding some great, great stuff. Opener "Rock, Rock Till You Drop" is as perfect an opener as you could want, an AC/DC style rock'n'roller that instructs you on the way to party hardy Leppard style. And man, it's convincing, with that shredding solo and gloriously ballsy riff coming out of the syrupy intro. Joe Elliott really shreds his vox on this one, creating the perfect live song.
Power ballads come no better than "Too Late for Love", the blueprint for any number of followers that still rocks harder than any of them. Unabashed metal might, perfectly dramatic lyrics in a power metal vein, that achingly powerful solo...just perfection. Up them lighters folks, the Leps executing the concept with unheard of skill and feel, years before Bon Jovi, Poison, and even the Leppards themselves drove it into the realm of nigh-intolerably schlock over-exposure (see: Adrenalize).
There's no denying the people-moving power of "Rock of Ages", Joe sort've rapping over these big synth-filled spaces like Brian Johnson reborn (or born again), sermonizing the power of rock to the adoring multi-tracked masses, helplessly headbanging once that ballsy simple riff makes itself known. This is true genre-bending innovation on display, dance-metal even, like Killing Joke gone (really) commercial. Really, this is the most "Hysteria" style track on the album, side by side with it's infinitely less metal albeit more riffy sister "Rocket".
Lets face it though, everything else pales next to "Foolin'", the most balls out METAL moment, that incredibly great riff steam-rolling those who might claim they weren't capable of rocking out on 11. A fourteen on a ten scale for metal excellence, no doubt about it, that solo positively howling and shaking like nobody's business, the shiny guitars peeling away under that deep crimson onslaught of a riff underneath Joe's positively vicious stutters. This song does the album title justice, just burning up and raging loud and proud.
Rest of it is frankly a mixed bag. "Die Hard the Hunter" could have been a metal classic, but the heavily synthed riff weakens it, making us wait for the insane live versions to really come alive and throttle our unworthy asses. "Billy's Got a Gun" is a nice moody song, but just doesn't stand out, and the speed metal (we're talking 70's style melodic speed, not Dark Angel here) style of "Stagefright" is hampered by the otherwise breathtaking mixing and engineering. All in all this is Mutt Lange's masterpiece really, although Hysteria and those fucking Shania Twain records are more ambitious. It's perhaps not the most amenable sound for some of the dirtier metal tunes, but that crisp steel of those legendary riffs makes you forgive him for virtually anything, even for making you listen to "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" forty-six times a day for five months. Well, almost.
Stand-Outs: "Foolin'", "Too Late for Love", "Rock, Rock 'Till You Drop"