Def Leppard, Hysteria

Rick Allen wasn't going to let a little thing like losing an arm stop him from smacking skins, even though the skins were MIDI and the crash was digital, and the band wasn't going to let a little thing like going through two producers stop them from making another hit album. So let this review document what happens when you'll make sure you'll get what you want at any cost. Mutt Lange built a classic hair-metal album with every track a potential single, every song a "Thriller" in miniature, and incredibly he largely pulled it off. At no time is the music, at least, ever less than good, and some of them are in fact remarkable in their musical staying power ("Don't Shoot Shotgun" and the wickedly wacky "Excitable" are still favourites of mine years later, "Hysteria" remains one of the best glam anthems ever recorded and the audio clips of Ronald Reagan in "Gods of War" echo presciently in these terrorist times). Here's where it loses its fifth star: the appalling sound quality. I may be a dweeb audiophile, but Allen's 8-bit low-sample-rate synth-o-drums were just the beginning; when Lange starts layering the sound becomes murky and tinny, and even Bob Ludwig's mastering mojo can't rescue recordings with the dynamic range of a toaster on Top Brown. The strongest tracks are those he didn't muck around with much and the limitations of early 1980s multi-generational recording really kick the legs out from under the first three tracks or so, especially "Animal," a double tragedy because of how painstaking its recording process was. In the end, they got their hit album, and Rick mostly got his drums back, but there was a price to pay to make it possible; compare with Pyromania. Ten years later, in a proper digital studio, we might be arguing about their use of Auto-Tune instead. (Content: mild innuendo.)