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Motley Crue, Maiden, and Metallica could only look on in amazement at the sales figures that Pyromania pulled in on a weekly basis. If the object of the game of rock and metal was to make money, then Def Leppard not only won, but destroyed all competition during 1983. From all the albums released this year, only Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down has sold more over time. All this from what started out as a bunch of young kids from Sheffield trying to break into the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene. The record company sunk a then crazy million dollars to make it and the guys would have sell a minimum of three million copies to get themselves out of debt. A somewhat tall order considering previous lp High N Dry didn’t even break the top 30 on either side of the Atlantic. Having producer Mutt Lange on board again was the key here. Instead of banging out the tracks over a few weeks in the studio, an immense period of crafting, recording, and mixing of the tracks took place, and over a year was spent ensuring that when the album was finally released, it was perfect.
Taking the high gloss and smooth production techniques from major pop records and applying them to rock would seem to be Mutt’s speciality. From the crashing opening bars of epic opener Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop) until the drawn out and distorted drum loop of the final number Billy’s Got A Gun, this is quite the remarkable studio recording, not that it would hold any water at all if the songs were not up to much. Now I wouldn’t go as far to say, like most Def Leppard fans I know would, that Pyromania is 100% killer and no filler because even though there isn’t a bad song on it, not every one is a classic. Too Late for Love drifts on after you want it to end and is a little too wet for a rock band of any kind to sing, meanwhile Coming Under Fire grates on me every time I hear it. It feels like the boys pulled the chorus out of their Leppard utility belt on a whim when they realized they had already used their best on Photograph and Rock Of Ages.
So what’s so great about a pop rock record? Def Leppard answer this song after song. Die Hard The Hunter is a case in point, from the start a risk is taken because of the lyrical social commentary contained within. Cock rock fans do not want to hear about war; the boys wanna hear about pussy and the girlies wanna hear about dick. Perhaps because of this, it became singer Joe Elliot’s favourite of the Pyromania set. The multi-layered vocal harmonies take the scope of the song from an audio treat to a huge cinematic level, broad in style and scope. Mutt really took the boys to task here, sometimes adding his own vocal takes to underscore and alternate the exact frequency of those voices. And so it goes on, Foolin’ is a ballad masterclass, gently building until the sub chorus flows into the bridge, which then launches into the main chorus. Boom! Repeat formula and then solo. It’s a cliché because it works, and done in less skilled hands you’d loose interest after the first listen, and bands like Warrant and Stryper never learnt that lesson. You have to be the best if you are treading an already weathered path.
Pyromania was also guitarist Pete Willis’ final album with the band after his behaviour was deemed to be getting in the way of the group's intensified forward momentum. This was another risk taken by the band, this time because Pete was a contributor in the songwriting process and a tight rhythm player to boot. It was late in the album's recording cycle when his alcohol problem became too much for the band to handle, so a replacement was brought in the guise of Phil Collen, who still resides in the band today. It would not be until Hysteria that Phil made a real contribution to Def Leppard and it does seem a shame that today Pete Willis is considered nothing more than a footnote in the band’s history, considering the huge contribution he made to the first three lps.
Not that any of this mattered. Leppard’s gamble to delay release until everything was polished and exactly what Mutt Lange and the group wanted from a perfect rock record paid off millions of times over. Only Michael Jackson’s Thriller kept Pyromania off the top spot in the USA. Reviews from usually lukewarm critics were feverish in the States and the UK (where sales were steady, but disappointing considering it is the bands home country). Malcolm Dome at Kerrang! magazine announced that Pyromania would become a legendary record, which of course it has. What amazes me is that the boys were able to better it next time round. Who would have thought it back in the days of the NWOBHM. Nobody, except maybe for Joe Elliot, who would later say he wanted the group to be the Stephen Spielberg of the rock world. Def Leppard had just released their Jaws, next up E.T.