In 1987, Sheffield-born rockers, Def Leppard, released one of the biggest glam metal albums of all time, Hysteria – featuring hits ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, ‘Love Bites’, ‘Rock of Ages’ and the title track. Four years later, lead guitarist for the band (and one of its principal songwriters), Steve Clark, died of alcohol poisoning.
The ‘90s were here, and already the death knell for glam metal was ringing out in the distance, giving way to a landslide of alternative rock, grunge, EDM and Britpop. For most bands, Hysteria would be their last hurrah, a final, climactic bang. Not for Def Leppard. They’d pulled through drummer Rick Allen losing an arm in a car crash during the production of their fourth record. They conquered dismemberment. Why not sneer at death the same way?
So, in 1992, Adrenalize was released. And in honour of its upcoming reissue on vinyl next month (the first time it’ll be widely available on the format since its release), I thought I’d take a deeper dive into what I believe is the band’s best album.
Adrenalize opens with ‘Let’s Get Rocked’, one of the biggest stadium anthems to come out of the hair metal era. Telling the story of one average kid who’s ‘happy to do nothing’ – finding solace only in rock and roll mayhem – it’s a track laced with trademark ‘Mutt Lange polish and saccharine shimmer (despite Mike Shipley taking the reins of producing, with Lange only credited as an executive producer). ‘Seven day weekend/ Up all night!’ is quite possible the quintessential lyric of that period in time; of hairspray, spandex, leather jackets and sweat. It’s one hell of an introduction.
‘Heaven Is’ remains my favourite Def Leppard track. But even for first-time listeners, it’s a behemoth follow-up to the sweltering right hook that was Adrenalize’s opener. You just cannot deny who’s behind the mic with those layered vocals and that hypnotic guitar. Clark had already laid down much of his work in demos for the upcoming album, with the band saying that playing to them was like ‘playing along to a ghost’. And here, that pulsating trill from the other side has never been more apt.
‘Make Love Like a Man’ is cheesy, but a damn fine arena number. Def Leppard were forged in the perspiring fire of the stadium, and it’s not hard to see with anthems like this one. ‘Tonight’, meanwhile, is one of the group’s most underrated ballads, owing a lot to their High ‘n Dry era. After all these years, the songs here have such depth to them – not just a battering wall of glimmering sound, but real calculation.
The band’s darkest – and perhaps most epic – moment comes in ‘White Lightning’, dedicated to the loss of Clark, and the addiction which drove him to his premature end. ‘You wanna live/ But you can’t let go/ You wanna stop/ But you can’t say no’ – Subtle? No. But when that chorus comes to claim you at last, there’s no way of escaping its enthralling pull.
There’s some of the more obvious album tracks in ‘Stand Up (Kick Love into Motion)’ and ‘Personal Property’, but by no means are they throwaway. As with Hysteria, you can tell the band wanted an ‘all killer, no filler’ album. And I would put ‘Personal Property’ toe to toe with ‘Run Riot’ any day. These tracks fire on all cylinders, straddling the balance between the boyish charm of Slippery When Wet with Aerosmith’s downright debauched peaks on Permanent Vacation.
But who said it was all about the sex with Def Leppard? They can pour utter heart and soul into their work when they need to. ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’ is one of the best ballads to come out of the early ‘90s, as frontman Joe Elliott wails out for solace in his solitude.
Two fast-burning stacks of dynamite, ‘I Wanna Touch U’ and ‘Tear It Down’, round out Def Lep’s fifth studio effort; with every instalment in the track list apparently more blistering than the last. We close the record in much the same way we started it. Rocking, rolling, and headbanging until the sun comes up. As it should be.
The ‘90s would ultimately go on to shape Def Leppard enormously. We would taste the experimental grunge sound of Slang, before taking in the pre-2000s boyband pop influence of Euphoria. In some ways, Adrenalize was the last pure rock album the British boys ever put out, even if there are those who say it pales in comparison to its predecessor. Me? I love Hysteria with all my heart, but there’s something about Adrenalize that’s just so deeply primal, locking into your senses and taking control like a wild animal. And, just maybe, it was hair metal’s last hurrah.