On the cover of the January 1989 issue of NME, Joe Elliott had the right to smile. Over the course of a year and a half, his band managed to smash the sales record set by their previous effort to reach an astonishing 12 millions copies shipped. After a lengthy year and a half of touring including 2 American legs, sometimes visiting the same places twice, the singer could pat himself on the back. 30 years later, Hysteria, the fourth album of Def Leppard has sold more than 25 millions copies globally and remains a classic of the eighties.
Nicknamed the “most unlucky band in the world” after a series of setbacks during the making of the record, the British quintet claimed they had spent so much at the time, that they would have to sell at least 5 millions copies of the new record to break even. Fans were nervous, and some newspaper once asked what the band had become after four years without releasing any new music. “Oh, we are still alive!” replied the band, caught in the midst of the recording sessions managed by Mutt Lange.
So was it worth the wait? Definitely if you ask me. Hysteria tends to divide fans as it presents a poppier approach than its predecessors and is often dubbed as corporate rock. Opinions can diverge but it can’t be denied that the Lep put together a fantastic collection of songs. The album is especially notable for the great contribution of the late Steve Clark, who managed to write some of the best riffs of his career. Listen to the intro of “Gods of War” and feel the sensitivity of this incredibly talented but unfairly underrated guitarist. While I also like Phil Collen’s contribution (his first as a composer for the band), I always felt drawn to the unconventional approach of Steve “Steamin'”. His touch and feel is all over this record and Lange’s production emphasizes his talent even more.
Subtle, full of contrast, Hysteria also provide the band with a chance to show their versatility. You can go from one true rocker with “Armageddon It” to a brilliant technologic and sonic experiment with “Rocket”. Some would say it was way too much “Mutt-Langerie”, I say the osmosis between the band and its unofficial sixth member was at the time near perfect (unlike on the following release that is way overproduced). One of my all time favorite is the ballad “Hysteria” who shows the band at its pick, musically speaking. The main arpeggio around which the song is built is simply one of the band’s all time best.
On its initial release, the record was actually slow to pick up. After a good start, it slowly faded away from the top ten. Only the release of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (honestly not the best song on the record, but an immediate anthem that appealed to the American masses) in early ’88, saved the day and consecrated Def Leppard as one of the biggest band of the era.
The last great Def Leppard record who went on to more success with 1992’s Adrenalize but lost a part of their identity and originality with the death of Steve Clark.