Saturday, 25 May 2019

Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman

Although the quality faded over the tears, you simply can't beat the first two "Bat" albums and Dead Ringer....

Bat Out Of Hell (1977)

Released in September 1977, this absolutely unique work of genius stands in a category all of its own. Quirky New York composer Jim Steinman had long admired Elton John's Burn Down The Mission and Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding - mini opuses within a rock song setting, with long dramatic instrumental introductions. He also had a bunch of Peter Pan meets The Rocky Horror Show lyrics and a desire to set them to Wagnerian bombastic rock music meets Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound to create something the like of which had never been seen or even contemplated. He needed a few ingredients to allow his bizarre genius to flourish.

He needed a band. He employed musicians of the highest quality, including bassists Garry Tallent, pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen's E St. Band. He needed a producer. He went for the legendary Todd Rundgren, notable for his work with rock band Grand Funk Railroad and the glammy, over-the-top New York Dolls. Most of all he needed a singer. He chose an overweight Southern boy, Marvin Lee Aday who had recorded, bizarrely, a few singles several years earlier on the Motown label. He had been in the Rocky Horror Show, where he had met Steinman. He was known as Meat Loaf. They also knew female vocalist Ellen Foley from those days too.                                 
The album they had been planning for years was finally ready. Just seven tracks of music that is pretty impossible to categorise. The mighty Bat Out Of Hell with its magnificent, extended introduction and guitar-piano interplay is almost an album in itself, as is the mini-play within a song that is the duet with Ellen Foley on Paradise By The Dashboard LightMy own personal favourite is the closer, For Crying Out Loud, two songs in one. A tender piano-driven opening and then a drawn-out, orchestrated climatic ending highlighted by Meat Loaf's tumultuous vocal.

Also present is the Spectoresque You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth with its great horn-saxophone intro; the touching piano ballad Heaven Can Wait; the yearning romance of Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad (introducing the cynical humour often used by Steinman in his lyrics) and the raucous, rock n roll tub thumper that is All Revved Up And No Place To Go, with its frenetic ending. All seven songs are mini-masterpieces. Jim Steinman really is the great underrated genius of rock music. One thing this album has always suffered from is poor sound, unfortunately. Then again, that is something that besets all Wall Of Sound works - from Spector's original material, to George Harrison's All Things Must Pass to Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run to Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Apparently there is a Hybrid SACD around that is good (see other reviews) but otherwise it is lacking, dull and muffled in a way it should never be. Otherwise, it is a magnificent and mighty beast.

Dead Ringer (1981)

In 1981, when Jim Steinman had prepared Bat Out Of Hell 2 for Meat Loaf, the Loaf got a throat illness and could not sing. Steinman duly released the excellent Bad For Good. The big man duly recovered and they hastily recorded some more material on this album.
In my view, and that of quite a few others, the better material is to be found on Bad For Good. However, don't let that detract you from this album. pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band are still there and certainly the fist few songs are excellent. The rocking Peel Out is a good opener, although Meat Loaf later admitted he hated the track and his voice was suffering as he sang it. You can sort of tell. The next one, though, is a classic, pure Steinman sexual jealousy and lust in I'm Gonna Love Her For Both Of Us. A genuine Meat Loaf great. His voice is back by now, for sure. Also, just listen to Max Weinberg's drumming on this one. Awesome. Roy Bittan's piano, Weinberg's drums, the female backing vocals and Meat Loaf's tumultuous lead vocal just blow you away. One of my favourite Loaf tracks of all time.

More Than You Deserve ploughs the same lyrical furrow, and guess what - so does the next great track - I'll Kill You If You Don't Come Back, with its For Crying Out Loud dramatic ending build-up. Another classic song from Steinman. Nobody does infuriated obsession-lust-passion better. Nobody. You hear me. Nobody!! Reed 'Em And Weep is a powerful rock ballad and then there is the spoken word bit of the earthy Nocturnal Pleasure that provides a great introduction to the rocking hit single, Dead RingerEverything Is Permitted sits a bit uncomfortably at the end, an old song from several years earlier, it doesn't quite fit in with the general feel of the rest of the album. All in all, get this, along with Bat Out Of Hell 1 and 2 and Steinman's Bad For Good and you have all the Meat Loaf-Steinman you really need. These were the albums on which they were really on fire, lyrically and musically. Love the cover too.

Midnight At The Lost And Found (1983)

After the iconic, unique glory that was Bat Out Of Hell, an acceptable follow-up in Dead Ringer and a proxy album in Jim Steinman's Bad For Good, this album unfortunately saw a parting of the ways between Loaf and his genius muse in songwriter Steinman. Can you tell? Not half. The magic of Steinman's rock'n'roll fairy tale bombast is instantly lost. While there are still a few good tracks dotted around and Meat Loaf's voice hits a couple of high spots occasionally it is just a bang average rock album as opposed to something captivating. Apparently Steinman had offered Meat Loaf Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Making Love Out Of Nothing At All for the album, but the record company refused to pay for them. They duly became enormous hits for Bonnie Tyler (particularly) and Air Supply, and this underwhelming album sank without trace. After three wonderful covers, even the cover of this album was decidedly uninspiring.
I remember eagerly putting this album on back in 1983 and finding that Razor's Edge was just a chugging mid-pace rock number with zero stardust about it at all. That special something that Steinman's songs had was nowhere to be found. Midnight At The Lost And Found had a shuffling beat, but also an acoustic guitar intro. Where was that piano and power chords? It is redeemed by a catchy, full-on chorus, it has to be said, and Loaf's voice is powerful here. Wolf At Your Door is a bit better, just, with Steinman-esque lyrics but the backing is rock-by-numbers, with the piano virtually hidden away and the beat metronomic. I quite like Meat Loaf's initial vocal on Keep Driving as the track builds up slowly to kick off into some frantic rock in typical Meat Loaf style. It is a shallow track, lyrically, but at least it rocks out, the piano joins the party, the guitar is good and Loaf appears to have re-discovered his mojo. The sound isn't great though, as it isn't on all of this unremastered, slightly murkily-produced album. 

Next up is a rocking cover of Chuck Berry's The Promised Land. It is a great song, so not too much can go wrong. Even though, I feel Meat Loaf could have given a bit more to it. The vocals are deep and decidedly unlively. The old "side one" was as good as it every got, for me. The rest of it sort of drifts away in a fog of ordinariness. You Can Never Be Too Sure About The Girl is an acceptable but you have to say, plain, number that doesn't stick in the memory long. Yes, there is a reasonable guitar solo in it, but Steinman didn't do "reasonable" guitar solos. He did the intro to Bat Out Of Hell. Meat Loaf without Steinman is like the ill-fated final line-up of The Clash, or Mott The Hoople when they turned into Mott. 

Priscilla is appealing enough and Don't You Look At Me Like That just about passes muster as a Meat Loaf ballad. If You Really Want To has an ABBA-style backing, but even that can't raise it up from being dull. Fallen Angel, once again, makes it half way but somehow leaves one expecting more. I was disappointed by this album back in 1983 and have to say that all those years haven't changed my opinion.

Bad Attitude (1984)                  

After the decidedly underwhelming Midnight At The Lost And Found which featured, notably, no input from the inspirational Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf redeemed himself a little on this album by including a couple of Steinman songs that he had previously recorded. They help to give the album something of a "proper" Meat Loaf feel. There are a few other good ones too, so it is an improvement. The sound quality, however, is positively awful - dense and unclear. 

Bad Attitude is a solid enough opener, and features Roger Daltrey apparently, although you can't really hear him, until the end. It suffers badly from the afore-mentioned murky, muffled production. Modern Girl features Clare "Dark Side Of The Moon" Torry on vocals alongside Loaf and it was deservedly a hit single. It is a non-Steinman song but, for once, a good one. It is full of Steinman-esque grandiosity and makes you think "great, Meat Loaf is back". It certainly did, for me, back in 1984, upon hearing the single for the first time. Now we get two Steinman songs. Nowhere Fast featured on the soundtrack for a little-known movie, Streets Of Fire, recorded by Fire Inc. It builds up via a synthesised, disco-ish beat into a full-on dramatic chorus. The excitingly suggestive Surf's Up first appeared recorded by Steinman himself on his Bad For Good album back in 1981. I actually prefer his version to Loaf's, finding it more yearning and sexually motivated. Loaf, despite possessing the stronger voice, takes all the desperate, lusty angst out of it. Who can resist the line "Surf's up - and so am I..." though? He was a naughty one, that Jim Steinman.

Piece Of The Action is a big-production Read 'Em And Weep-style ballad, again it is much better than any of the material on the previous album. The same applies to the joyous rocking romp of Jumpin' The Gun
Sailor To A Siren is pretty unremarkable, however. This continues as Don't Leave Your Mark On Me and Cheatin' In Your Dreams pass by without lingering in my memory. The first six tracks, though, make this one of the best of the "other" Meat Loaf albums (the non full Steinman input ones). It is not great, mainly thanks to the sound, but it is ok.

Back Into Hell: Bat Out Of Hell 2 (1993)

Good Lord above, I had missed Meat Loaf. After two great albums in Bat Out Of Hell and Dead Ringer and a proxy album in madcap composer Jim Steinman's Bad For Good, there had only been three underwhelming albums since 1981 as poor old Meat floundered without Steinman's pseudo-operatic and magnificent, glorious input. It was all back as it should be here, though, with long songs full of the grandiose, semi-ludicrous bombast that had been missing. Only Meat Loaf and Steinman could pull this sort of thing off. Humour, yearning, lusty sexuality all wrapped up in over-the-top theatricality. You either like it or you don't.
Beginning with some typically Steinman-arranged piano, the lengthy build up to I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) leaves the listener in no doubt that, after all those fallow years, Meat Loaf and Steinman were back - and how. The song is, like For Crying Out Loud from the original Bat Out Of Hell album, a number in two parts. The first is Meat Loaf on vocals, backed by some thumping drums, guitar and piano, while the second half gives us a duet with female vocalist Lorraine Crosby that re-visits the sexual tension first explored on Paradise By The Dashboard Light. The magic is back, that is for sure. Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back is a huge, riffy, chunky industrial chugger of a rock song. It is as heavy as Steinman and Loaf ever got. "What about the future? You can shove it up your ...." screams Loaf at one point. Quite. Steinman had never been quite so cynical. 
Rock 'n' Roll Dreams Come Through was originally done by Steinman as a bonus track on Bad For Good. Meat Loaf has the stronger vocal, but there is something about Steinman's version that I prefer, maybe the alto saxophone solo the original had. The chorus, though, is sublimely anthemic. Meat Loaf deals with it admirably, of course. The haughtily grand It Just Won't Quit dates from Steinman's excellent Original Sin by Pandora's Box production, featuring four female vocalists. Again, Loaf does it justice.

Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire) also comes from Bad For Good. Once more, I find I prefer Steinman's version, this time it is for his original guitar intro and weaker, but creepily lustier vocals. 
Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are - what a title. Unfortunately, it is one of the album's weaker tracks. Unusually for a Steinman composition, despite a few good parts, it goes on too long without getting anywhere (nearly ten minutes). Steinman tries to re-visit the spirit of Bruce Springsteen's Racing In The Street and marry it to Bat Out Of Hell but doesn't quite get there. I do like several bits of it, though, so there you go. I like the re-working of the "it was long ago and far away" line from Paradise By The Dashboard LightMore reminiscing is to be found as Wasted Youth revisits the paranoid, spoken vocal of Love And Death And An American Guitar from Bad For Good. This time it has more melodramatic orchestration. Everything Louder Than Everything Else is straight ahead pounding, riffy, singalong rock, while Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) is another one from Original Sin. Guess what? I preferred the original. Not that I don't like this one though. It is fine lines. I preferred the female vocals on the original. Back Into Hell is a short broody, synthesiser and orchestra instrumental before we end this opus of an album with the Peter Pan-esque, plaintive and melodic Lost Boys And Golden GirlsAfter so many years in the wilderness, sixteen years later, could a monster like Bat Out Of Hell be matched? A pretty impossible task was given a really good shot here. Great album.

The Monster Is Loose: Bat Out Of Hell 3 (2006)

After 1993's excellent Back Into Hell: Bat Out Of Hell 2 Meat Loaf released a couple of extremely patchy albums in Welcome To the Neighborhood in 1995 and Couldn't Have Said It Better in 2003. On this one, he decided he wanted to revisit the old Bat Out of Hell theme again, which, after all, is the only one that ever really, properly worked for him. There was one problem, though, composer and resident genius Jim Steinman didn't want to be involved and indeed, began proceedings to sue Loaf over the "Bat" title, as he owned the rights to it. In the end, though, an agreement was amicably reached out of court and seven Steinman songs were used on the album. Unfortunately, however, songwriter Desmond Child was hired as producer, so the album didn't bear any of the Steinman production hallmarks. Can you tell, despite the use of the Steinman songs? Of course you can. For me, the production is willy-nilly, lacking in thought and cohesion. While Steinman's work often included operatic, theatrical bombast, there was always a progression to it, a vague linkage between the tracks that resulted in a continuity for the listener. Here, you get nu-metal thrashing next to big, build up Steinman musical theatre-type songs. It just doesn't sit well for me and there is also too much filler on here. You could lop four or five tracks off the album and it would knit together much better.

Meat Loaf sings well, with enthusiasm and commitment but he cannot turn some of the base metal into gold. The Steinman tracks sit alone as the good ones, in comparative isolation, in the same way that a couple of his tracks did on the Welcome To The Neighborhood album, making you think "it's not so bad an album after all", before you get bumped back down to earth. The point does also need to be made as well that, unusually, not all the Steinman tracks are great ones either, for probably the first time.

The Monster Is Loose is an industrial metal clunker that lasts over seven minutes. It is seven minutes too long for me. Meat Loaf's voice sounds decidedly odd on it too. Blind As A Bat has Desmond Child trying to write like Steinman, and failing. Does it make sense to say it sounds too overblown? That is an odd thing to say as a fan of Steinman's very over-the-top music. It just sounds a dull, mock-theatrical rock ballad-by-numbers to me. Sorry, it just doesn't do it. Time for some good stuff. Steinman's It's All Coming Back To Me Now, previously released on his Original Sin project album and also covered by Celine Dion. Here it is a convincing duet with Marion Raven with both vocalists on fine form. This is proper Meat Loaf. It as a great guitar solo too. The same can be said for Bad For Good, featuring some searing guitar from Queen's Brian May, a track that originally appeared on Steinman's 1981 album of the same name. May makes it sound like a Darkness track here. It is one of the best cuts on the album. It should have started it.

Diane Warren's Cry Over Me is a sombre rock ballad that the album could possibly do without. In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King is an often discordant operatic piece of bizarre Steinman pomp. It is rather Gothic and not a little unsettling. It is certainly not Steinman's best work at all. 
Monstro is a brief orchestral, Wagnerian interlude that leads into Desmond Child's Alive which is one of his better ones, but still nothing special. The big production, orchestrated ballad If God Could Talk is another one that just leaves me a bit cold. Maybe some love it, but it is just not my thing. If It Ain't Broke, Break It is a Steinman track most unlike his usual material, being a horn-driven rock chugger. It is nothing like his previous stuff at all. However, it is better than the Desmond Child big rock ballad fare. What About Love is a duet with longtime stage partner Patti Russo. It is a Child song, but a good one, probably the best non-Steinman track, lifted high by Russo's powerful voice. 

Seize The Night is a nine minute epic Steinman song, but it has always seemed to me a bit a directionless mess to me. Sorry, Jim, you know I love you, but you've got a hell of a lot to learn about rock 'n' roll...(I couldn't resist that one). The Future Just Ain't What It Used To Be is another Steinman song that first appeared on Original Sin. It provides some late redemption for this album with a strong, dramatic performance from Meat Loaf and the massed backing vocals, particularly at the end. Cry To Heaven is a sort, mournful, Celtically lachrymose Steinman number to bow out on. I have written more about this album than other Meat Loaf offering, even more than the original Bat Out Of Hell, which is odd as it is one of my least favourites. I have tried to be fair about it, though, and there are some good parts to it, which I hope I have highlighted.

Jim Steinman - Bad For Good (1981)

The much-missed (by me, certainly) Jim Steinman was an absolute genius of a composer, make no mistake about that - just ask his old mate Meat Loaf. As many people know by now, the material on this 1981 album was intended by composer Jim Steinman to be Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell 2. As it was, Loaf had throat problems, so Steinman sang the songs and put the album out himself.

Using many of the musicians from Bat Out Of Hell, including the E Street Band’s pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, this was an excellent production. 

Many have complained about Steinman’s obviously weaker voice and, while this cannot be ignored, in my opinion, all six of the songs that have subsequently been recorded by Meat Loaf - Bad For GoodLost Boys And Golden GirlsSurf’s UpOut Of The Frying Pan And Into The FireLeft In The Dark and Rock n Roll Dreams Come Through - were not as good, certainly instrumentally, and, incredibly, even vocally. Steinman's versions are, to a song, much better. "Surf's up - and so am I...". What a line.

All those songs are performed here by Steinman and his band with a verve and attack that Meat Loaf could not recapture on later recordings. Despite never having been remastered, the sound on these songs is clear and vibrant, all guitars, drums and Roy Bittan’s wonderful piano. Steinman’s lyrics of fantasy, love, jealousy and pure lust are perfect for the glorious backing. Just listen to Left In The Dark, a masterpiece of paranoid sexual jealousy and rock theatre. The maniacal narrative rendition of Love And Death And An American Guitar is pure Jim Morrison, directly influenced by 1967's Horse Latitudes, from The DoorsStrange Days album.

Steinman, who sadly passed away in 2021, was an absolute genius. This album is second only to Bat Out Of Hell. It is that good. Check out the fabulously riffy rock of Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire and the sheer unbridled lust of Surf's Up for proof. The latter will ring a chord with anyone has been fortunate enough to have sex on a beach....

Check out Ellen Foley's work too :-

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