Book Review: Adrenalized: Life, Def Leppard and Beyond
Phil Collen is one the UK’s most successful musicians, a two-time (RIAA) diamond certificated guitarist and songwriter. A working class kid from Hackney made good, whose royalty cheques are now so large they arrive on an eighteen-wheeler. He is not the drummer from Genesis.
The memoirs of a member of Def Leppard don’t immediately leap out as one for the best sellers list. For all the bands considerable success, they lack that one iconic member with the flamboyance of Freddie Mercury, or the tortured soul of Kurt Cobain. Def Leppard’s tale, however, was as gripping as any to emerge from the hedonistic world of 80s rock, an unparalleled story of triumph and tragedy.
As you might expect, the band’s meteoric rise accounts for a large portion of this autobiography. A confident, hard-working guitar player, Phil joins super-producer Mutt Lange’s protégés during the recording of the landmark Pyromania album and his jet-propelled solos carry the ambitious young line-up to unimaginable heights. In just a few months, Def Leppard are the hottest-selling breakthrough act on the planet, save for Michael Jackson.
Arguably, it’s the legendary lows as well as record-breaking sales which established Def Leppard’s legacy. Drummer Rick Allen infamously lost an arm in a car accident. The band’s follow-up record, the era-defining opus Hysteria cost so much to produce it required five million album sales just to break even (It would eventually surpass twenty-five million sales worldwide). At the high of the band’s fame, Phil would lose his musical soulmate, co-lead guitarist and fellow ‘Terror Twin’, Steve Clark, to alcoholism. Then there was grunge, an era in which to use Collen’s own words, Def Leppard were “as hip as haemorrhoids”.
For Leppard fans, however, these events are already well-documented within the band’s own biographies and DVDs. The insights which do emerge tend to simply add flesh to the bones, rather than offer anything revelationary. That said, this is Phil’s story, not Def Leppard’s, and it’s in the less documented areas of Collen’s life where this book is at its most appealing. A healthy and enjoyable chunk of Adrenalized is devoted to Phil’s formative years and pre-Leppard days in post-glam rock acts Dumb Blondes and Girl. Phil’s exposure to the UK’s multi-cultural capital and the birth of punk allows us insight into his musical tastes outside of rock which, ultimately, reaffirm themselves in current side projects Manraze (with The Sex Pistol’s Paul Cook) and blues act Delta Deep.
The claim to ‘bust the myth of the classic rock star stereotype’ largely holds up. Phil confesses to “flash motors” and “juggling relationships”, but equally we’re introduced to a single-minded figure who in a decade of debauchery, becomes an ethical vegetarian and quits drinking, at a time when neither option was considered viable or acceptable for a member of the rock n’ roll fraternity. Collen also discloses a ferocious appetite for political texts, in particularly the works of Noam Chomsky, along with a rather more obvious love of fitness. Sadly, there are few tips on how to achieve Phil’s very nearly legendary sculptured abs.
If there’s a downside to Adrenalized, then it’s a general lack of depth. Phil, and indeed Def Leppard’s, stoicism in face of adversity means events are rarely tackled in any great length. The loss of loved ones often occurs both unexpectedly and, due to relentless touring, down the end of a phone line. Occasionally, a little more time is devoted to reflection such as the final weeks and passing of Phil’s father Ken, and it’s in these passages where matters are at their most candid and poignant.
Overall, Adrenalized can be recommended as a safe purchase and an ideal stocking filler for any Def Leppard fan. It offers for the first time a more personal take on a band who so rarely break ranks. It’s only a shame that for a man so keen to get his top off on-stage, we only rarely catch a glimpse behind the mask.