Def Leppard - Hysteria - Review
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critics' view

After a four year absence coming off of a diamond selling album Leppard released Hysteria, evoking mixed reactions from many of their fans. A huge sound overhaul had taken place during the recording of the album. The band no longer sounded like a heavier AC/DC, they sounded like a heavier Michael Jackson. Maybe not that drastic, but they were surely trying to pick up some of the same audience. Had the album been pop drivel they would've been labelled sell outs by more than just their original fans, but Hysteria does rock in some places, and the hooks are meticulously and perfectly constructed to where the songs that don't stand strong on their own as a rare form of good pop music.

After a disastrous test run with Jim Steinman of Meat Loaf and Billy Squier fame, and Phil Spector of Beatles fame, Leppard wisely returned to the man who had brought this young band success in the first place, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. His production methods were never and never became as insane as they are on this album. The sound is huge. Energy replaced by precision. Once again, Rick Allen is replaced with the Fairlight synthesizer, though the samples on this album a huge improvement over the ones used on Pyromania. Hundreds of layers of backing vocals being sung simultaneously with compression, mid-range reduction EQ, and high-pass filters to make them shiny pop perfection. Mike Shipley steps down as engineer to mix the album, and turns the recording duties over to Nigel Green. The team of Green engineering and Shipley mixing works tremendously on this album, as their roles were reversed on the previous album.

The sound quality on Hysteria is a step up, an insane level of absolute perfection. Dozens of layers or recorded guitar parts are seamlessly blended without ever getting in the way of the main attraction of these songs, the vocal melodies. The band used Rockman amplifiers during the recording of the album, which gives a completely clean guitar sound with distortion added later when it was necessary. Though Shipley hated the sound of the amps calling them, "shitty [with] no real balls", the rest agreed that recording that many Marshall's would over-power every other instrument and Shipley eventually agreed. The recording was so meticulous that Lange actually made the band record one section of the title track one note in a chord at a time and then dubbed them together later so that each note struck at exactly the same time.

The vocals on this album did require special treatment, as their are literally hundreds of backing tracks. The hooks are some of the catchiest in any genre, and the melodies are incredibly well thought out, dissected for human response. "Animal", "Armageddon It", and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" are designed to stay in your head and by extension, in your speakers for weeks on end. These are meticulously crafted pop tunes, every second carefully thought out, being spontaneous was out of the question. Every note on Hysteria serves a purpose, everything is there for a reason. The band seems to have the most fun on side two tracks like "Don't Shoot Shotgun", "Run Riot", and "Excitable", but even this fun doesn't sound loose, and sounds precisely calculated and executed. The ballads are rather syrupy, but they are incredibly catchy which makes them guilty pleasures as well. The title track being the best of them, and "Love Bites" being the most syrupy. Lange's influence in the band was noticeable before, but he may as well be the leader of the band on this one. Producing every single breath found on this album down to an atom for absolute perfection is what he did. It drove him out of the business for years, his magnum opus on such a grand scale that it would have taken many lesser producers out of the game permanently, but he just kept on going. He never did match the production perfection that he got on Hysteria ever again, but his legacy remains much intact.

Though fans of metal may not admire Hysteria, it is a classic album, and it is an achievement of some sort. If not of hard rock then of pop, and no doubt one of production. Some may see it as formulaic and more of a product than music, but it's not. It's simply the closest anyone has ever come to reaching pop perfection.

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