Graded on a Curve:
Def Leppard,
Pyromania

I see no reason to mince words; I have never had the slightest interest in, or liking for, the English hair metal band Def Leppard. Okay, so that’s a lie. I was a mite bit intrigued when they came into possession of a one-armed drummer. There is no way not to like a band, if only a little, that has a one-armed drummer.

That said, hearing them on the radio has always put me in mind of the immortal words of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. To whit, “Silence like a poultice comes to heal the blows of sound.” But you can’t go your whole life avoiding Def Leppard’s blows of sound, although I’m not sure why. I’ve done quite nicely turning the radio dial whenever I heard the approach of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and I’m in fine fettle. My life free of Def Leppard is, as one poet or another put it, an ode to joy. But I am also a music critic, of sorts, and therefore obliged to nosh, with mine ears, the occasional bad oyster. So I have girded my loins, and here, Def Leppard, I come.

While Def Leppard is considered part of first wave of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, what they sound like to yours truly is the second coming of REO Speedwagon. Then again, I’ve never understood the whole NWOBHM thing. Call me a snob, but I want nothing to do with a club that counts Iron Maiden as one of its members. Iron Maiden is not a rock band; it is a particularly stupid rhinoceros.

It was 1983’s Pyromania that turned Def Leppard into superstars, so it’s as good a Def Lep record as any to write about. First, the good news. Opener “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” has muscle, and even a touch of AC/DC in its DNA. Is it dumb? Sure. But hey, we can’t all be Foghat. And “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is followed by the compulsively listenable “Photograph,” which boasts a cool melody, a great chorus, and some neat guitar work by Steve Clark. The vocal harmonies are to die for as well. “Stagefright” is also reminiscent of AC/DC, although it lacks the in-your-face simplicity of Australia’s most wondrous beast this side of the kangaroo. But I like it nonetheless. I might even sing along, but a guy must have limits.

The trouble starts with “Too Late for Love,” a terrible tune that reminds me uncomfortably of classic Bad Company. The song is portentous, the vocal harmonies remind me of Journey, and I don’t dare glance at the lyric sheet lest I be, like Lot’s wife, immediately turned into a salt lick. And to make things worse, the song goes on and on and on. As for the awkwardly titled “Die Hard the Hunter,” it tries to sound deep, but you will in fact find it wallowing up to its neck in your local baby pool. When it finally kicks into gear it almost becomes bearable, but when I say almost I mean almost as in not quite. I like Clark’s guitar work, but not enough to make me ever want to hear the song again.

That’s side one. Side two features the insufferable power ballad “Foolin’,” on which the band sounds like it’s auditioning for a spot at the local Renaissance Faire. The chorus is sorta likeable, but this baby is precious beyond words and shows what horrible things can happen when a metal band attempts to show its warm and fuzzy side. As for “Rock of Ages,” it and the accompanying video demonstrate that the band actually possess a sense of humor, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, the song has a limp and is totally derivative. Meanwhile, “Comin’ Under Fire” clomps along like Foreigner on Thorazine. “Action! Not Words” is listenable, rushing by as it does like a red double-decker bus sailing past your bus stop. Caviar is mentioned, and it’s impossible to hate a song that broaches the issue of Russia’s finest. Unfortunately, LP closer “Billy’s Got a Gun” fails to deliver on its promise, and strikes me as a second-rate Bon Jovi tune.

Listening to Pyromania didn’t change my opinion of Def Leppard. Or at least much. I can no longer say they never recorded a song I like; I can listen to several of the album’s cuts with something like indulgence, if not pleasure. But this is pop rock, not metal, which I suspect accounts for Def Leppard’s enormous success. These guys are the anti-Motörhead, and the perfect band for people who like their metal all sweetened up. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” indeed. This isn’t hard rock; it’s overcooked spaghetti. But hey, if it’s spaghetti rock you craze, Pyromania is the one you want. Or 1987’s Hysteria, I don’t see as how it matters much. Me, I’ll take AC/DC any day. Or a band of kangaroos. I love kangaroos. Everybody loves kangaroos. Kangaroos rock.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

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