By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
DEF LEPPARD – HIGH ‘n’ DRY (1981)
It’s funny the things you learn when you are least expecting it. About three weeks ago (at the time this article is posted), I reviewed the new Def Leppard album Diamond Star Halos for another web site. In that review I mentioned how the band’s fan base somehow manages to break down between those who like everything (generally speaking) Def Leppard has done from Pyromania onward and those who think the band “died” after their first two albums. Those latter fans have seemingly never gotten over the band’s sound changing and evolving over the ensuing decades and every time Def Leppard releases a new album, they come out of the woodwork to insist the first two albums are the only ones worth listening to.
Now, I tend to like most of the band’s releases, though there are some I have never particularly warmed to. But I do like the first two Def Leppard albums, even if I admittedly don’t listen to them quite as often as some other releases. So the fuse was lit to pull the High ‘n’ Dry album out of my personal collection and give it a listen for this series.
But the deciding factor in writing about the album this week was actually me stumbling over a CD edition of the album at my friend’s record shop. Yes, I own the cassette copy of the album and had never upgraded until just recently.
Now that I was surely going to write about it, I had to look some stuff up. And I was surprised to realize that my cassette edition is not the original 1981 release. Instead, I have the version that was re-released in 1984. What’s the difference? Well the newer version has two bonus tracks on it. Both tracks are remixes, the first being for the High ‘n’ Dry classic track “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”. The other bonus track is for the 1981 B-side track “Me & My Wine”.
Unlike bonus track releases these days, where the extras are at the end of the album, these two tracks are mixed in the main part of the release. “Me & My Wine” closes out Side One while the remix of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” opens Side Two of the cassette.
But, here’s twist…remember I mentioned that CD edition I bought recently? Well, when the album got its original release in that format, the two bonus tracks were dropped from the album. In fact, they weren’t restored to the High ‘n’ Dry album until 2018. Oh, and according to the album’s Wikipedia page, the remixes were done to make the songs sound more like the material on the Pyromania album.
So by now, you might be wondering what I think of the songs themselves. Well, I have to say that listening to the High ‘n’ Dry album for this article, I got a chance to dig into the tracks almost like they were new. Of course they aren’t but it has been a while since I last checked out the album. The one thing I keyed in on first was that for all the complaining fans of the first two albums do about how Def Leppard changed their sound, they aren’t exactly wrong about that. Even with Mutt Lange as the producer for this album, they hadn’t quite streamlined the sound you would grow familiar with on both Pyromania and then Hysteria. Instead, the sound of the music feels a bit raw and definitely has more of an edgy vibe at times. Joe Elliott’s vocals are a bit rougher and less smooth in the delivery, though that’s not really a criticism, I like his vocals regardless of style.
The album opens with the song “Let It Go” which was the first single released when the album came out. It didn’t have much success on the singles chart but I really got into it as I listened for this piece. It’s got a rough-and-tumble fast pacing to it and you get caught up in the song pretty quickly. In fact, you can say that about most of Side One’s material.
Def Leppard started High ‘n’ Dry with three straight on rockers that left no doubt just how on point they were at the time. “Another Hit And Run” hits you right between the eyes, and “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)” does a great job of aiming for and hitting that anthemic high a rock band needs to nail each time out.
As for the original version of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, it was the 2nd single from the album. While it didn’t break the Top 40 on the singles chart, it’s still the classic track from the album. It’s pretty much the only song I ever hear still being played on the radio from the album. And even though it is 41 years old, it still makes me echo back in time to when I first heard the song. Plus, have you listened to it? It’s just a great song. It has some roots in that power ballad style but it isn’t hamstrung by the format as the power part of that equation shines through pretty nicely too. Just a slam bang kind of track that makes me glad to be a rock and roll fan. Oh, and the follow up instrumental “Switch 625” is phenomenal! It was written by the late Steve Clark and while the lack of lyrical content is something I would usually complain about, you won’t hear it about this song. It’s a rocket-fueled song that gets your blood pumping fast and furious.
As I said above, the remixed version of the blazing rocker “Me & My Wine” closes out Side One. While I couldn’t begin to tell you the last time I heard the song, it’s still rather enjoyable.
Now, regarding the remix of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” that opens Side Two of High ‘n’ Dry, I think putting it so relatively soon after the original version was a mistake of sequencing. This version would’ve been better served as the last track on the album’s 1984 re-release. It’s not that the remix is bad or anything but I just have a hard time picking out the differences between how the two versions sound when they are so close in the running order. While that’s likely simply a failure on my part, it does factor into things for me.
The song “You Got Me Runnin'” is a solid rocker, but I think I was more taken with “Lady Strange”. It rocks and has a nice backing vocal take on the song’s chorus that reminds you of what was to come on later album releases.
The oddity of the High ‘n’ Dry album is that it has a song on it called “On Through The Night”, which was the title of their first album. I don’t know if there is a story behind how the band came to do the song for this album and not have it serve as the title track for the first album or not. But what I do know is that this is a damn fine song. No seriously, endlessly rocking soundtrack that really got to me. I think this song just rose way up on my mythical list of favorite Def Leppard songs.
Oh, one other thing I noticed with High ‘n’ Dry is that a lot of the songs seem to bleed into the next one without the traditional fade out between each track. It’s not too distracting but I will admit that I did momentarily forget to realize that “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” had turned into “Switch 625” on Side One.
The song “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” was a pretty cool number. It’s got a mid-tempo delivery in the main lyrical verses and the song gets more uptempo for the chorus. But the song seems to have a little extra heavy feeling to it that makes the whole track seem somehow deeper to me. Plus, the chorus sounds fantastic.
As for the album closing “No No No”, it is an all-out blitz musically full of that “piss and vinegar” attitude that I’m guessing everyone has in the twenties. It gets you amped up and then it just cuts right out on you out of nowhere and suddenly the album is over.
But as I look back at what I just heard, I can’t help but admit that I do indeed find myself really enjoying this early version of Def Leppard. Look, I’m never going to agree with those who think Def Leppard ceased to exist when they changed their sound after their first two albums but I can at least see what they are talking about. But for me, I like that the band evolved over the past four decades. If they hadn’t, who knows if they would’ve lasted. That said, you can’t take away from the fact that the High ‘n’ Dry is just one flat out killer rock album that does indeed stand the test of time!
NOTES OF INTEREST – The High ‘n’ Dry album has gone double platinum in the US. It managed to peak at #38 on the Billboard album chart upon its original release in 1981. It was also the last album that guitarist Pete Willis was a full-time member of Def Leppard.
The cover art design was done by Hipgnosis, the art design group headed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. They are probably best known for their association with Pink Floyd.