30 Years Ago: Def Leppard’s ‘Adrenalize’ Marks the End of an Era
"Do you wanna get rocked?"
It's surprising because the band's belabored, five-year gap since Hysteria (which was not unusual for them) included the death of guitarist Steve Clark in 1991, following a long struggle with drugs and alcohol. Because rock music was getting darker and heavier, with grunge stars like Nirvana and metal titans like Metallica taking center stage. And because longtime producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange took a step back — and after defining the Def Leppard sound of the '80s, no one knew what that would mean for the band.
It all meant that a little rock was not out of the question. Adrenalize's opening track and first single, "Let's Get Rocked," was also the last one the band wrote for the LP. Sensing the album lacked a song with the same sense of whimsy as "Pour Some Sugar on Me," Def Leppard cooked this one up to get the crowds roaring. Its inspiration came from someone they were spending a lot of time with in the studio: Bart Simpson. When production got bogged down or things felt too heavy, the band would put on The Simpsons and laugh.
Watch Def Leppard's 'Let's Get Rocked' Video
"Heaven Is" and "Make Love Like a Man" follow "Let's Get Rocked," establishing a theme for Adrenalize: hetero relationship drama with a heavy dose of strict gender roles. "Personal Property," later in the album, also slides into this category. The writing on Adrenalize is frequently accused of being formulaic and stale, and these songs may demonstrate why. There's not much exploration of the emotional dynamics of relationships or even hookups, but a lot of objectification of women and descriptions of the kind of women that men want.
Naturally, euphemisms for sex also appear as talk of rhythms. These songs should bring Van Halen to mind — the David Lee Roth era specifically — with "Heaven Is" telegraphing Eddie Van Halen's famous guitar stylings and "Make Love Like a Man" making a passing reference to "Just a Gigolo."
Singer Joe Elliott has said the lyrics to "Make Love Like a Man" are "a nod too stupid" — and they are — but something is interesting about this era of rock music turning the tables. Female fans were encouraged to objectify the pretty boys of Poison, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Warrant and their ilk. Def Leppard in 1992 were still squarely in their objectifiable era, with sharp features and the long, curly, manicured locks of ancient Grecian magistrates. But as they entered their early thirties, maybe they weren't as comfortable playing that role anymore. Still, that didn't stop Mercury Records from issuing "Make Love Like a Man" as the album's second single.
Watch Def Leppard's 'Make Love Like a Man' Video
"Tonight" stays in the "here's how a woman can please me" vein, but the following track, "White Lightning," is a stark departure from everything else on Adrenalize. Clark and co-guitarist Phil Collen started the song, and Collen continued it after Clark's death. The lyrics pay homage to the late guitarist, and the double entendre title is both derived from his nickname and a slang term for addiction. It captures the angst and sadness the band felt over his loss, without sacrificing the pop-metal sound for which they were known.
"Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)" and "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" flip the script of the other hetero lust songs on Adrenalize. Musically, both lean toward adult contemporary, with Collen's guitar playing being about the only thing rooting them in the hard-rock realm. Lyrically, they've got a bit more of the depth that's sorely lacking on several other album tracks. "Stand Up" flips gender roles, asking a woman to do her part to save a relationship. "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" is particularly vulnerable, capturing the moment when you realize you're in love.
Listen to Def Leppard's 'White Lightning'
Drummer Rick Allen gets his chance to shine on "I Wanna Touch U." That, plus the uplifting guitar riff on the chorus, is about all the track has going for it. Adrenalize closes with the AC/DC-style banger "Tear It Down," which necessitates a discussion about the sequencing of the album. These two should be flipped, because the breathless "Tear It Down" doesn't offer the listener a chance to come down from the album experience. "I Wanna Touch U" would have closed things on an upbeat note without revving the engine quite so hard.
It's a shame "Tear It Down" wasn't a single. Perhaps that speaks to the musical landscape in 1993, when Mercury Records finally finished its campaign for Adrenalize, issuing a whopping seven of the album's 10 tracks as singles, three of which were high performers. With Adrenalize, Def Leppard released the final album classified as "glam metal" that would top the Billboard chart. A change was coming.