For my birthday this month, my mother has paid for a couple of recently released music boxsets I wanted to get, and this is a review of the first one I’ve received – a boxset celebrating the 30th anniversary of Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.
I also did an unboxing video so you can see everything that’s in the set. I did have a go at doing a first listen review video for disc 1 as well, but even just for one disc the editing required would have taken too long. It’s far easier to write a review really. So I hope you enjoy my review in this post!
Hysteria is a classic album by Def Leppard – yet strangely I’ve never owned it before. I know, it’s mad given how extensive my album collection is. I already knew about half of the tracks on it though, thanks to a Greatest Hits compilation, so I knew I’d love it, and this was the perfect opportunity to get it.
It’s very nicely packaged, with 5 CDs (the album, 2 CDs of B-sides and remixes, and a 2 disc live album), 2 DVDs (promo videos and a documentary). a very interesting book telling the story of the album (with nice clear white text on a black background), a copy of the original tour programme, a book of photos, a discography book, and a poster.
It all looks good too, with nice colourful artwork that uses all the elements of the album cover. There are a couple of typos in the main book about the album, some really small print in a few parts of the books, and some hard to read text in red on the back of some of the CD covers. But otherwise I don’t have any major problems with it, I can live with those little issues.
As for the music, it’s a pretty solid collection across all the discs.
CD 1 – Hysteria Album
The original album itself comes first, of course, and it’s really good, as I knew it would be. All the songs sound great, with solid beats, nice melodies, catchy sing-along lyrics, plenty of power and emotion, and overall that unmistakeable Def Leppard sound. You can’t mistake these guys for anyone else. yes, it means there is a similarity in sound across all of the tracks, as the drum machine and guitars and Joe’s vocals are always present. But even so, every song is distinctive in its own way, with its own riffs and rhythms, it’s own hooks and choruses, it’s own messages. Each track works very nicely in its own right, but as a cohesive unit the whole album works together very nicely as well.
My favourite tracks are inevitably the ones I know best – Rocket, Animal, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Armageddon It and Hysteria. They all grab your attention wonderfully and keep it there – the kind of songs that when you hear them start, you don’t want to turn them off and can’t help singing along to.
But the other tracks are nice too. Women is a nice opener – I personally might have picked Rocket to start the album off as it’s more powerful, and Rocket has lots of nice references to other artists. But then again, Women is a good song too, and is a nice way of easing you in before some of the faster, crazier tracks, so it still works well. Gods Of War is a great track as well, and still topical today with terrorism still present in the world. There’s a lot of emotion and meaning to this one, and it comes across well. The mix of recorded voices and sounds at the end is also a nice touch given the theme of the track. Don’t Shoot Shotgun and Run Riot are good as well – there’s nothing overly exceptional about them, but they’re still fun rockers that are worthy of inclusion.
Excitable is their deliberate attempt to make a rock song that you could dance to, even in a disco, and it serves that purpose well. If you don’t end up moving or tapping along to it in some way, or singing along in the chorus, then something’s surely wrong. Then Love And Affection is a lovely track to round off the album with.
So it’s a great album overall. It’s a very enjoyable set of songs, very satisfying to listen to, often great at engaging you so you get moving and singing along to it. There are albums I would consider better, but it would still be in my Top 20 at the very least. It is a classic album of its time and still holds up very well now. In itself it would be a good introduction to Def Leppard for anyone new to the band, as there are so many memorable hits on it.
CDs 2 & 3 – B-Sides & Remixes
These two discs contain alternate mixes of some of the album tracks, plus some b-sides that didn’t appear on the original album.
There are 4 B-sides to start with – Tear It Down, I Wanna Be Your Hero, Ride Into The Sun and Ring Of Fire. And these are all pretty good. They could all have been worthy of inclusion on the main album if there had been room for them. None of them are better than the main album tracks, so I wouldn’t say you could swap one of those for one of these b-sides. But they still have that same great sound and are good fun to listen to. So they would have been nice little bonuses for the people who bought the singles at the time.
The Radio Edits for 6 of the album tracks are mainly just shortened versions. Rocket and Hysteria have been chopped down by a whole 2 minutes (ditching entire sections in the process), Love Bites by a minute (missing out the opening part of the intro, and the closing part of the outro). and Women by roughly 45 seconds.
The Radio Edit for Pour Some Sugar On Me, however, is practically the same length as the album version, but with a completely different vocal intro. I don’t know why they did that. Both are 30 seconds shorter, however, than the version I already have on a Greatest Hits album and another rock compilation – which, thanks to Wikipedia, I understand is the Video Edit. The extra half a minute consists of an extended version of the Radio Edit intro. So I’ve taken a copy of that from my Greatest Hits and added it to the tracklisting of Hysteria in my iTunes collection for completeness. It shifts the track numbers after it slightly, sure, but I don’t mind that.
Release Me, credited to Stumpus Maximus And The Good ‘Ol Boys, was the B-side to Armageddon It, and is basically the group messing around, with their guitar technician on lead vocals, who gets crazier as the song progresses! It’s quite funny!
You also get various extended remixes for Rocket, Armageddon It, Animal, Pour Some Sugar On Me and Excitable. These are all fun to listen to, as you get to hear the tracks in new and interesting ways, hearing elements you may not have noticed before in the original mixes. And there’s nothing wrong with Def Leppard’s music lasting longer! That said, I still prefer the album versions of the tracks, because that’s how they’re meant to be heard. But these are enjoyable alternate mixes, it’s great to have them.
Finally, you get 3 live tracks as well, from Tilburg in the Netherlands, in June 1987 – Rock Of Ages has an interesting medley of tracks by other artists in the middle, from Not Fade Away to Whole Lotta Love and a fair selection of others, all of which I recognised. They don’t really try and match the melody or sound of the original song – rather, the backing instrumentation stays pretty much the same throughout, varying occasionally when necessary, with the lyrics sung in a way that fits. It doesn’t get boring though, because it’s only a little snippet of each song that they do. It’s just a nice nod to other artists that they admire, like all the lyrical references in Rocket. After that, Love And Affection is a nice live version of the track from the album, while Billy’s Got A Gun is another song I haven’t heard before, as I don’t have the Pyromania album it comes from, but it’s good.
The other extra on these remix CDs is the BBC Radio 2 Classic Albums documentary – or, specifically, the interview segments from it. The original show was 60 minutes long, but by cutting out the music to focus purely on Joe’s track-by-track commentary, it lasts just over 18 minutes. And it’s interesting to listen to. As he doesn’t get a chance to talk for long about each track, you don’t get to learn a lot about each one, and parts of his recollections are similar to the written notes in the boxset’s booklet. But it’s a nice insight all the same, it’s good to hear his thoughts on all of the songs and the album’s success.
CDs 4 & 5 – In The Round In Your Face
This is a show from Denver, Colorado, the year after the album was released, originally released as a video apparently. So it contains a lot of songs from Hysteria, of course, but various others as well. And it’s very good. The band all sound great here, the crowd are clearly loving it, and there’s a lovely guitar solo track from Phil near the end as well. So it’s great to have this as part of the set.
DVD 1 – Visual Hysteria
The first DVD is a collection of promo videos for the singles released from the album, which lasts for just under an hour. First there are a few Top Of The Pops performances, for Animal, Pour Some Sugar On Me, and Rocket. All mimed of course, but still fun to see. Then there’s a BRITS performance of Pour Some Sugar On Me, which is also mimed, and the sound is a bit ‘distant’ in the way it’s recorded. So it’s nice viewing, but not essential for inclusion given the TOTP performance already on the disc.
And then you get the actual promo video films recorded especially for each single. Women is pretty cool, with some nice images of a Def Leppard comic interspersed throughout. Animal sees the band at a circus, firstly performing in the trucks that the animals get transported in, while you see footage of the animals and circus performers, then the band move into the circus arena itself. So there’s some fun imagery in this one – although whether you’d get away with making a video like that today given concerns about the welfare of animals in circuses is hard to say.
Pour Some Sugar On Me then gets two videos. The first sees the band performing in a house that’s being demolished around them. In the documentary on the other DVD, the band explain that they felt this video was awful – and it is a bit of an odd video to be fair, but it’s good to see it included. But the wanted to make another – and they did, by making a video which showed them enjoying themselves performing live on stage, which is thus second video here, credited as the US version. Of all the versions of Sugar included on this DVD, this is particularly significant, as you get extended version of the intro that you don’t hear anywhere else, even on the album. It’s this version that has since appeared on compilations as I explained earlier. Obviously what you hear is the original track, but from the crowd noise dubbed on top and the footage, you can tell there’s a good atmosphere when they perform.
Hysteria sees the band performing in front of various dancing couples, mixed with a bit of footage of a couple driving down a country road. Love Bites is a very simple video, mainly consisiting of close-ups of the band member’s faces as they sing and play, plus a bit of footage of a smartly-dressed woman walking outdoors. Rocket includes clips of a rocket launch, unsurprisingly, but mainly shows the band performing while surrounded by screens that flash up images connected to the music references in the lyrics, so it’s fun to see what you can spot. And finally Armageddon It is footage of another live performance, though the audio is again the original album track of course. And mixed in with it is some black and white footage of the stage setup and rehearsal, and a few colour clips of the band relaxing and messing around backstage.
So it’s a nice collection of videos. There’s nothing amazing or crazy about them, and the ‘live’ performances don’t include the live audio, because it’s all mimed to promote the singles, that’s why the videos were made. But they’re a great window into how the band looked and performed at the time, so it’s good to have all the videos gathered together in one place like this.
DVD 2 – Classic Albums Documentary
The final disc is the Classic Albums documentary, which is very interesting to watch. The chapter listing mentions that 5 of the songs are covered, which is true, but there are various other songs, people and events covered too, so the list is a bit misleading in that sense. It’s a very comprehensive, honest and interesting look at how the album was made, charting the ups and downs of its 4-year development, talking to all the surviving members of the band (the late guitarist Steve Clark is given a nice tribute in the film) and people who worked with them. It also includes fascinating clips of demos and isolated elements from various tracks, which show just how layered and well-thought out they are, and highlighting various things you might not have noticed. A CD with that kind of stuff on would have been amazing to include in the set really, but never mind.
The documentary is 50 minutes long, but then you get a further 50 minutes of extra footage that didn’t make into the main film. And it’s well worth going through, You get to hear more of the early version of Animal, an extensive breakdown of Pour Some Sugar On Me, beautiful acoustic performances of Hysteria and Pour Some Sugar On Me recorded especially for the documentary, unused vocals from Love Bites, and plenty of extra interview content as well. It’s all basically a bonus documentary in itself, it’s great. It gives you a greater appreciation of the quality of the album when you understand just how much work and thought and time went into it.
And that’s it, we’ve finally reached the end of the box set. I’m very glad I got it, I do feel it was worth the money. The music is great, the documentary is interesting, the books and other inserts are fun to have, and it’s all nicely packaged together. There are a few little instances where the text is difficult to read, and it would have been nice to have some of the early demos on the CDs themselves and not just on the documentary, but they’re minor points. It’s all very enjoyable, and if you’re a fan of the original Hysteria album, or just of Def Leppard in general, then I think this is worth getting.