“Animal,” the third track on Hysteria, was the first single released from the album in all markets except the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It has the rarefied distinction of being the first Def Lep single to chart in the U.K top 10, peaking at #6. Scoring higher on their home turf than the later and ubiquitous “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” the band would not top “Animal” in the U.K. until 1992’s “Let’s Get Rocked.” For this reason alone “Animal” deserves attention, if not, as we shall see, for its under-the-radar and surprising use of the genre to overturn sexual power expectations.

From the outset “Animal” moves into familiar turf for a rock song, male lust. The first-person singular “I” is the perspective of the entire song, and is set up in each of the two verses:

1st Verse
A wild ride, over stony ground

Such a lust for life, the circus comes to town
We are the hungry ones, on a lightning raid
Just like a river runs, like a fire needs flame
I burn for you

2nd Verse
I cry wolf, given mouth to mouth

Like a movin’ heartbeat in the witching hour
I’m runnin’ with the wind, a shadow in the dust
And like the drivin’ rain
Yeah, like the restless rust
I never sleep

In the song’s verses we face a diversity of images. The circus image, the controlling focus for the video and important for our overall interpretation of the song, only appears in the lyric in the second line. We encounter the running river, the burning flame, and the shadow in the dust, but none of these are built upon elsewhere. This is a distraction, but insisting on continuity or elaboration here is asking the wrong question of the song. The chorus, on the other hand, gives us the primary controlling image of the song:

I gotta feel it in my blood (Whoa-oh)
I need your touch don’t need your love (Whoa-oh)
And I want, and I need, and I lust, Animal
And I want, and I need, and I lust, Animal

[Note: up to “And I want” is musically a pre-chorus, but for narrative purposes it serves as part of the chorus.]

The message in the chorus is simple: the singer has physical, animal needs which must be met only in physical ways. By saying “I need your touch don’t need your love” it seems that love has been offered to the narrator and is blatantly rejected. Given the expected audience, teenage boys and young men, women here are reduced to the status of objects once again, just as they are in “Women.” Their opinions and emotions are irrelevant in the pursuit of the fulfillment of lust.

At this point it is important to note that the verses and chorus are sung differently: the verses are sung tenderly as if to a lover, while the chorus is a strident demand for satisfaction of lust. This tension is built by alternating between verse and chorus, tender and tough, until it reaches an apex in the bridge, just before the guitar solo. In the bridge the (male) singer taunts his (female) quarry, now identified as the animal:

Huh! Oh!
Cry wolf baby
Cry tough
Gonna hunt you like an, uh, uh, animal
Gonna take your love n’ run

The speaker taunts the woman he is chasing to cry wolf, to see if anyone will hear and come to her rescue. She is on notice that she will be hunted like an animal, her “love” will be taken, and  the speaker will abandon her. The hunt is on, and like the speaker’s lust can only be satisfied by using her and leaving her aside.

This is hugely violent toward women and, in a culture of rape like the United States, is completely indefensible. Unlike the song “Women,” however, this is not the ideological end of the song. In fact, we are in for a drastic transition. This transition begins with the guitar solo, where the singer goes silent; the solo is a pause in the narrative, a time between when the listener is set up to believe something and then finds out what is actually happening is completely different. Following the solo we get two more repetitions of the chorus and then a stunning, drastic turn in the narrator’s statement of his needs. The background singing is in parenthesis:

(And I want) Take me
(And I need) Tame me
(And I lust) Make me
(Animal) Your Animal

(And I want) Show me
(And I need) Stroke me
(And I lust) Let me be your…
(Animal) Animal

This same lead voice which previously identified his male needs and made ominous threats instead now asks to be taken, tamed, and made into an animal, begging without any hesitation “let me be your animal.” Even the way he asks to be treated like this is passive: his request is a single voice which submissively follows the masculine singing of the chorus by the band. This shift in focus is striking, swift, and completely unexpected.

This major shift is the key which explains the entire song and the video. Returning to the chorus, we see that the writing has cleverly left gaps which we did not notice on a first analysis:

I gotta feel it in my blood (Whoa-oh)
I need your touch don’t need your love (Whoa-oh)
And I want, and I need, and I lust, Animal
And I want, and I need, and I lust, Animal

The chorus identifies want, need, and lust. From the perspective and assumptions of patriarchy, with men firmly in control, this reads as a male asserting his right to take what he wants from an objectified woman. He is an out of control animal with lust which must be placated by a woman. How completely surprising, then, to find that his real desire is to be her animal. With this clarification we see that the chorus really says:

I gotta feel it in my blood (Whoa-oh)
I need your touch don’t need your love (Whoa-oh)
And I want to be, and I need to be, and I lust to be your Animal
And I want to be, and I need to be, and I lust to be your Animal

The narrator claims his own need to be controlled and objectified the way animals (and women) are objectified in our society. He needs not the “stroke” [read: genital] of sexual fulfillment, he needs the “stroke” [read: whip]  of an animal trainer. He needs someone who will approach not as a gentle lover but instead as a lion tamer. And on top of that he demands to feel all of this in his blood, to know in his veins that she’s the one running the show. It hast to be real.

The music video corroborates this reading of the song. The “Animal” video shows us a a circus coming to town and setting up for a show. We see animals under the complete control and the men and women who keep them penned in, there to perform tricks in complete (if not genial and genuine) submission. So what seemed a throw-away image in the first verse is actually a necessary key for interpretation. Where else in our culture do we find animals under control and put on parade in the way we do in a circus? Our narrator voices his desire to be controlled like a circus animal.

What do we make of the offensive, inappropriate bridge where the speaker threatens to “take your love ‘n run,” where he threatens to hunt down this woman like an animal? Read through the lens of being submissive to this woman, he is testing boundaries. Here he snarls like a lion when a chair is thrust in his face, making a useless attempt to reclaim lost masculinity in a culture which equates submissiveness with femininity. In choosing to renounce his control he has renounced his masculinity. Even though this is what he wants, he lashes out in frustration. More so, however, he lashes out as a way to test this new boundary, to see if he has really achieved the submission he seeks.

In conclusion: one way to read “Animal” is as a passionate narrative of role-reversal. The song cleverly uses the expectations of this musical genre and its location in patriarchal society to draw an unsuspecting male audience into a narrative of role reversal, describing a desire to engage in culturally inappropriate submissive behavior. The song demonstrates that animal passions do not run strictly along expected gender scripts of masculine domination and female submission. Instead it assures us that anyone of any biological sex or gender identity can hold or relinquish power.

Thank you, Def Leppard, for a mid-80s, top-40 foray into power play and role reversal. This flipping of power relations is a trick performed in the plain sight of millions of listeners. But unlike the painfully obvious and surface-level makeup and hair of the L.A. glam metal bands, this profession instead runs to a place where we feel it in our blood.


Animal: Cover Art

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