[1 December 2002]
“Every golden nugget coming like a gift of the gods,
Someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs.”
—Jim Steinman, “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”
When a young singer with a bizarre moniker wandered into a New York theatre to audition for an up-and-coming composer, the universe, if for just a moment, was tilted at the right angle.
The collaboration of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman is one of music’s most inspired. The raw beauty, marathon energy and uncompromising passion of the pair came to life on 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, an album unbelievably shipped to hundreds of record companies over the course of a year before it was finally picked up by Steve Popovich and Cleveland International Records.
Popovich was impressed after hearing the opening 20 seconds of the album and went against the advice of his fellow industry bigwigs who predicted failure for Bat Out of Hell. After all, a wacky piano man and his 300-pound star singing ten-minute long theatrical anthems sounding more like Broadway themes or (gasp!) operettas than anything resembling rock and roll seemed like the last thing to succeed. Especially considering its release would come in the middle of the disco era with punk not too far away.
Popovich, Steinman, Meat Loaf, and the album’s producer Todd Rundgren (as well as back-up singers Ellen Foley, Karla DeVito, and Rory Dodd) stood by their project. Steinman, especially, refusing to trim his enormous songs for marketability or accepting it when he was told adding more sounds, twists and vibrations to his tunes was slightly overdoing it. Their dedication was rewarded and Bat Out of Hell, with its songs about teenage rebelliousness, love, death, lust, and car crashes, went on to become one of the biggest selling albums of the ‘70s, and has since notched up sales of over 35 million.
Not only did the album succeed, it revolutionized the rock genre, adding much-needed drama and theatrics.
This success was vindication for Meat and Jim that their hard work and monumental struggles had all been worth it. They took the album on the road, playing show after show to eager crowds, happy to witness something new, something grand and seemingly unstoppable. Meat ran his ample body into the ground at every performance, ripping his mammoth voice from deep down in the pit of his stomach. He may have been taking his new fans on an unbelievable musical journey, but he was burning himself out at the same time.
The Bat ride eventually ended and Steinman was already planning its follow-up. Bad for Good was intended to be the album’s sequel, however, Meat’s voice was so wasted from touring that he was unable to record its songs. Instead of hoisting them into rock’s wasteland, Steinman went ahead and recorded the vocals himself, releasing the album in 1981 to mediocre success.
Both he and Meat went separate ways in their individual careers in the 1980s. While they continued to prove their talents, Loaf with Midnight at the Lost and Found and Blind Before I Stop, and Steinman was his various musical projects (including two phenomenal songs for the 1984 soundtrack to Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire) neither were able to achieve the success experienced when the two of them came together. The magic was gone as quickly as it had arrived, and Bat Out of Hell with its intensity, drama, and larger-than-life qualities, and in an industry where everything old is always new again, no-one had come close to imitating Steinman’s kind of songwriting. The album looked destined to remain a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
But, in the early 1990s, Steinman convinced Meat to rerecord some of the songs from the Bad for Good record. Renamed Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, the album hit in 1993 as it was always intended. The mighty Meat Loaf on vocals delivering powerhouse performances of songs equally epic and just as dramatic and theatrical as those of its predecessor.
The new album was proof that the guys’ partnership was meant to be. Suddenly the energy was back, still as raw as ever. With the album’s cuts written at the height of the success of Bat Out of Hell, time hadn’t been allowed to stale Steinman’s ability to create magic. The erratic, rebellious, and vulnerable characters documented on the first album remained as impassioned as they were in songs like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “You Took the Words Right out of my Mouth”, and “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad”.
Meat Loaf was the comeback kid of 1993, with his single “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” a major hit around the world, the album going five times platinum and remaining on the Billboard charts for an incredible 88 weeks. The boys were back in town, and they were kicking ass again.
Almost ten years after the release of the sequel album (and 25 years after the release of the original Bat Out of Hell), a deluxe two-disc set has arrived. The glorious package features the digitally re-mastered original sequel album alongside a second disc of single and radio edits and remixes (if you’re short on time and want to hear such hits as “I’d Do Anything” in less than 15 minutes) all wrapped up inside flashy and gothic artwork.
The album is timeless. It’s just as satisfying to hear to Steinman’s stories as told by Meat Loaf as it was in 1977 and 1993. Everything necessary to create the perfect rock song—sex, love, violence, and defiance—is still as exciting. The The Wall-type cries (“What about your school?—It’s defective! What about your friends?—They’re defective! What about your Gods?—They’re defective!”) on “Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” remain inspiring; the concentrated imagery (“There are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark / I think he’s right behind me now and he’s gaining ground”) of “Objects in the Mirror May Appear Closer than they Are” is just as evocative, and the anxious and confessionary (“It’s never been this hot and I’ve never been so bored / And breathing is just no fun anymore”) feel of “Out of the Frying Pan (And into the Fire)” is still just as tragic.
Steinman’s incredible lyrical ability and intense grasp of rhythm and rhyme remains evident as each song crescendos with haunting efficacy. His desire to write long sentences and involved musical solos in order to capture just the right feeling is so majestic and the entire piece comes together like a rock and roll nightmare of ecstasy and torture.
While the fantastic album was a huge success, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, one of music’s finest partnerships, haven’t elected to churn out anything new since. And while the music of the sequel was intended to be the end of the story, it really isn’t, because the magical fervor and intelligent flashiness of this sequel does the exact same thing the original album did—leaves one begging for more. Fifteen years after the first Bat that wish was granted, so here’s hoping. For now though, the Deluxe Edition of Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell is a hell of a ride.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/meatloaf-bat2/