Classics: Def Leppard - Hysteria Review

by Anthony Kuzminski

One of the things music writers love more than anything else are lists. We love making them, arguing about them and dissecting them like the Bible. In truth, they don't really hold a lot of weight and at the end of the day, they make for good banter and that's about it. One of the most impossible lists Rolling Stone, Spin, Mojo, Q and every other magazine attempts to accomplish every few years is a "Greatest Albums of All Time" list. While I do love reading them and sometimes find myself wanting to go back and rediscover an overlooked classic, I'm not sure if it matters at the end of the day if Sergeant Pepper or Revolver are better albums than Pet Sounds (by the way, my vote is for Revolver). Regardless of what anyone says, the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands of immortal and classic albums out there and if you ask a million people, you will get one million completely different lists. Sadly, unless your band is named Nirvana or Radiohead, I often find albums from the last twenty-years sadly overlooked. Granted, time brings out the best in everything but there's also a prejudice against albums that sell a certain amount of records and immediately become "uncool" to own or even view as a classic album. Def Leppard's Hysteria falls into this category.

For nearly thirty-years Def Leppard has been one of the most vital, consistent and underappreciated rock bands on the planet. Yet because of their immense success they tend to get disregarded and people write off their triumph without ever thinking that maybe their records sold in the gazillions because they were damn fine grandiose rock records. The history behind Hysteria is enough to fill a book. If you truly want to inside story, check out Wikipedia here or check out their episode of "Classic Album" on VH-1 Classic. This is a wonderful documentary that goes inside the makings of the songs which makes you appreciate the album even more. Mutt Lange (the album's producer) was truly the George Martin of this project. Besides Rick Allen's tragic accident there were so many other obstacles this band needed to overcome to bring this album to life. In the end, after three different producers, Mutt Lange took the reigns and helped create the band's definitive album, a greatest hits record within itself that had seven singles, six of which went Top-Twenty on the Billboard Top 100 Singles Chart.

It was rumored in early 1987 that Def Leppard had finally completed recording on "Hysteria" and yet the album was not released until July 27, 1987 (the same day as another rock masterpiece, Appetite For Destruction). Why the long delay between completion of recording and release date? This can be summed up in one word: mixing. Mutt Lange took months, not weeks, to mix this album. He spent almost one month mixing "Women", which he saw as setting the template for the remainder of the album. If anyone wonders if producing and mixing really matter, all they need to do is take a listen to the B-sides included on this new deluxe packaging. Lange did not add his personal touch to these B-sides and while they're raw and full of revitalized energy (especially on "Tear It Down"), they lack to sonic stratosphere that Mutt Lange brings to his recordings.

The Packaging

The new 2 CD deluxe edition of Hysteria includes some stellar packaging. The double-disc set is much like the other Deluxe Edition packaging from Universal. The inner booklet contains some great liner notes from Rolling Stone journalist David Fricke, who even wrote a book on the creation of the album back in 1987. He recalls the trials, tribulations and triumphs of this band while recording along with some precious personal anecdotes and stories. Fricke is a renowned journalist and it's great to see a writer of his stature wax his poetic prose on a band that is all too deserving. The inner pictures are from the legendary and brutally honest Ross Halfin, one of the best rock photographers on the planet. There is even a picture inside of the seven singles from the albums re-constructed to create a partial picture of the "Hysteria" album cover. All in all, it's a stunning package giving fans everything they could want from their favorite album.

The Sound

My non-remastered Hysteria disc from 1987 still sounds better than many albums released in the last few years so I was interested to see how they could improve on it. Mutt Lange was light years ahead of everyone when he mixed this disc, it may have been the first album destined to be played on cd. Despite this need for perfection, the album has an extra wallop to it and the sonics are truly to be treasured on a first-rate stereo system with a crystalline mix. With mp3's we're living in times where the sound of music is severely deficient. For the most part, compressed quality is vastly inferior to the CD. Despite this obvious fact, many are not paying attention but if you want any proof, just listen to Hysteria on your mp3 player and then on a first rate stereo system and you will immediately recognize the missing dynamics from the compressed files. The remastered disc bodes a truly immense sound you won't soon forget.

The Extras

The bonus material on this deluxe edition is a nice collection of previously released material. The best thing about this set is that it contains all of the B-sides and remixes for this album in one spot. The B-sides included here are remastered and have never sounded better. It should also be noted that these songs are in their original configuration before the band began remixing and re-recording them for RetroActive in 1993. "Tear It Down" was eventually re-recorded for Adrenalize. It's fun listening to the innocence and spare production of these leftover songs. The irony is that many of these songs had the potential to be more complex and some like "Ring of Fire" and "Ride Into The Sun" harkens back to their 1981 album High N' Dry. These songs don't have the Mutt Lange slickness found on the album's twelve tracks, but there's something captivating about these songs in their original immediate configurations. It would have been nice to have heard some of the original Hysteria tracks unmixed to show how complex the mixing process truly is.

There are also five extended mixes on disc 2 which are great to have, but in the end are expendable. It's nice for the completist fans, but they are by no means essential. Even the most die-hard fans will only listen to these versions once or twice.

There are a handful of live B-sides which are all fun; a cover of the Alice Cooper classic "Elected" and a great medley of covers performed during "Rock of Ages". There is also a great performance of the spare ballad "Love and Affection" which was dropped from later in the tour and hasn't been performed since, which is a shame as it could have easily been the eighth single from the album.

The album's final track is the B-side "Release Me" which features their road manager Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals. It ironically made the Top-Ten in Greece. It's a fun and off-the-cuff track that is by no means essential but a blast to have and it's a rare find on CD.

What's Missing?

While this package does an A-grade job of gathering all the released B-sides and mixes from LP, CD singles and imports…it does not give die hard fans anything to chew on aside from improved sound. It would have been nice to hear a few of the raw demos and early versions of some of the big hit singles, unmixed songs and left over jams. However, Def Leppard and Mutt Lange have never been one to look to the past, especially after months and years worth of work went into making this melodic masterpiece. However, it would have been nice to get something unexpected from the vaults and it may have improved the overall sales of this "Deluxe Edition".

Two-decades down the line "Hysteria" still sounds as if it was recorded weeks ago and those monster sledgehammer riffs still sound staggering. If you have any doubt, then you didn't witness the band's magic over the last two summers where they played no fewer than seven songs from Hysteria nightly. Def Leppard still has the ability to shock and awe twenty-thousand people night after night with these classics. When people talk about defining albums of the 80's they often mention London Calling, Purple Rain, The Joshua Tree, and Thriller…and hopefully in not too distant future, they'll mention Hysteria.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.

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