Def Leppard look back on how they made 90s rock classic Adrenalize
In 1992, reeling from the death of their guitarist Steve Clark, Def Leppard were determined to keep the party going. The result was Adrenalize – hard rock’s last great blockbuster album
It began with a question: ‘Do you wanna get rocked?’ The answer came back loud and clear when Def Leppard’s Adrenalize hit No.1 globally in 1992. For one of rock’s biggest bands, it seemed like business as usual. In reality it was anything but.
If ever a band had to dig deep to make an album, it was Def Leppard with Adrenalize. They had done so before, in creating their 1987 album Hysteria after drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash on New Year’s Eve 1984, and had to reinvent the way he played, using a specially developed electronic kit. But in the making of Adrenalize the band suffered their darkest day – the death of guitarist Steve Clark on January 8, 1991, following a long struggle with alcoholism.
As Leppard singer Joe Elliott says now, looking back at that difficult time: “It was tough. Emotionally, so draining. But we didn’t want to split up the band like Led Zeppelin did after John Bonham died. We were tying to keep ourselves from drowning.”
Def Leppard made Adrenalize under intense pressure, both internal and external. In the absence of Steve Clark, it was left to Phil Collen, the band’s other guitarist, to replicate their signature two-guitar sound. They also had to find a new producer at a time when their mentor Mutt Lange was busy working with another client, Bryan Adams. In addition, there was the burden of expectation to match an album that had sold fifteen million copies worldwide. “How the hell do you follow Hysteria?” says Elliott.
What they achieved with Adrenalize was, as with Hysteria, a triumph over adversity. Def Leppard was always, in Elliott’s words, “an escapism band, for us and for everybody else”. And never more so than on Adrenalize. It included a memorial to Steve Clark: a powerful, sombre track titled White Lightning. But as they made this album, one comment from Mutt Lange resonated deeply within the band. While acknowledging the impact of Clark’s death, Lange told them: “People don’t want to hear Def Leppard doing Leonard Cohen.”
Elliott recalls: “A guy’s just died and here we are making this euphoric, celebratory music. It seemed a bit weird. But we made a point of remembering who we are, what we do and what we do well.” And it was the question ‘Do you wanna get rocked?’ – the opening line from would be the album’s opening track, Let’s Get Rocked – which set the tone. For all the sadness that surrounded the making of it, Adrenalize was a celebration of the life-affirming power of rock’n’roll.