After Meat Loaf’s two latest catastrophic albums Hang Cool Teddy Bear (2010) and Hell In A Handbasket (2011) combined with my memories of his almost as catastrophic performance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2007, I had no expectations what so ever that his new album – his first in five years – would be anything to write home about. The only small ray of I hope I had for this album to turn out at least decent was that he, once again, had teamed up with his old song writer Jim Steinman, the guy who wrote Meat’s two classic albums Bat Out Of Hell (1977) and Dead Ringer (1981). However, those two albums were produced by Todd Rundgren and this one isn’t, it’s produced by one Paul Crook, Meat’s guitar player (also earlier with Anthrax and Sebastian Bach) who was also responsible for the production on Meat Loaf’s last album, something that didn’t bode well for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I really dig some of Meat Loaf’s earlier albums, Bat Out Of Hell and Dead Ringer are both classics for a reason, brilliant albums both of them. I’m also a huge fan of the Mack produced Bad Attitude (1984), Welcome To The Neighbourhood (1995) and Couldn’t Have Said It Better (2003), three albums that just screams out classic Meat Loaf even though neither Steinman or Rundgren being involved. Also, the two Bat Out Of Hell sequels, II: Back Into Hell (1993) and III: The Monster Is Loose (2006) have both been criticized pretty heavily, something I feel is unfair as I think both of them, especially the second one, are really good records. But Meat Loaf is also responsible for a couple of real musical belly flops – other than his two latest ones, that is. Midnight At The Lost And Found (1983) and Blind Before I Stop (1986) are both horrible pieces of crap that should never have been allowed to see the light of day – or any other time of the day. That means that Meat Loaf’s career has been a roller coaster quality and sales wise so you’ll never know whether he’ll come up with a killer or a stinker every time a new record is released. At 69 years old, Marvin (now changed to Michael) Lee Aday, releases a new album that is rumoured to be his last before retiring so even if my expectations were low, I was still hoping that if this actually is his last record, he would go out with a bang.
The album opens with “Who Needs The Young”, an old Jim Steinman demo (he wrote the song 40 years ago and apparently it was a runner-up for Bat Out Of Hell), that begins with a pretty cool rhythm and blues groove that pretty quickly turns into some kind of 1950’s dance pop beat only to just as quickly turn into something that sounds like a cabaret of some kind where a Queen meets The Beatles melody lies on top. Sounds really cool, huh? Well, it isn’t. In the 70’s, Alice Cooper could pull a thing like this off, but this song only sounds confused and schizophrenic, but most of all it’s not just a good song. There’s a reason for the song being shelved and not used for all this time. Also, there’s a line in the song where Meat sings “My voice just isn’t the way it was…”. You hit the nail there, Meat. “Going All The Way Is Just The Start (A Song In 6 Movements)” is a classic Steinman/Meat Loaf title and the whole song is them trying to go back to the big, grandiose sound of the glory days. Meat also duets with both Ellen Foley (Who did the classic duet with Meat on the brilliant “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” in 1977) and Karla DeVito (who took Foley’s part on tour). Instrumentally, it’s a good song and both Foley and DeVito are awesome, but Meat Loaf himself can’t do the song justice at all. Besides, the flat production makes the song come off as a demo. “Speaking In Tongues” is a ballad with a gospel twist and the arrangement is very much Steinman. It’s another duet, here with one Stacy Michelle and where Meat mostly sounds out of breath, Michelle saves it – she has a fantastic voice and if she had done it by herself, it would have been a really good song. Now it’s just ok. “Loving You’s A Dirty Job (But Someone’s Gotta Do It)” first appeared on Bonnie Tyler’s Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire (1986), an album that Steinman produced. It is also a duet, again with Michelle and again she owns it. However, it must be said that Meat sings ok on it and it is easily the best song on the album. “Souvenirs” is a smooth, jazzy ballad that turns into a more upbeat pop laden song. Meat sounds really strained here and the song, eight minutes long, is way too long to keep it interesting.
“Only When I Feel” is a short ballad, based on piano and vocals and it passes by unnoticed and is very anonymous – it feels more like an intro or some kind of intermission. “More” is a cover of an old song that Steinman wrote together with Andrew Eldritch for his band The Sisters Of Mercy. There’s a pretty big electronica involvement but also a really heavy and bombastic arrangement. There’s a hard rock, even metal, vibe present mixed with a chunk of pure pop and instead of making the song varied, it feels unfocused and it feels like they don’t really know where they want to take the song. “Godz” opens with some bona fide metal riffing, but the song soon turns into some kind of musical / cabaret kind of song but instead of working with the mix, they go around it and the song sounds unfinished and rushed, again like they can’t make up their minds in which direction the song should go. “Skull Of Your Country” is a very Meat Loaf sounding big ballad. The “Turn around, every now and then…” bit from Bonnie Tyler’s song “Total eclipse Of The Heart”, which Steinman wrote, is used frequently here – sung by Cian Coey – and it works really well here. Turns out that Steinman wrote this song before “Total Eclipse”, it was called “Come In The Night” then, and he used the “turn around, bright eyes – every now and then…” part for the Tyler song. Well, it is one of the better moments on this album. The album closes with “Train Of Love”, a Rolling Stones meets Alice Cooper kinda rocker. It’s an old 70’s Jim Steinman demo reworked here, an ok tune but nothing that made any impact on me what so ever.
There is also a deluxe edition you can buy if you feel that you have too much money left at the end of the month. What you get if you do that is a demo version of “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” with only piano and vocals, a complete throwaway unless you’re a die-hard fan and the same goes for the previously unreleased “Dirty Water” and “Prize Fight Lover”. I can easily live without ever listening to those again. Also a so-called “song writer demo” of “Who Needs The Young” is there, but it should have been renamed “Who Needs This Version”. The last song on the deluxe version is the radio edit of “Going All The Way Is Just The Start” and the only difference is that it is two minutes shorter. Totally pointless. If you really believe you should spend your well-earned dough on this record, leave the deluxe version in the shops, that’s my recommendation.
Here’s the deal – this album blows! Well, not the entire album because there really are some good songs here – at least, they could have been good. The production leaves a whole lot to be desired and the fact is, the whole album sounds like a demo or some kind of pre-production and I can’t figure out why this left the studio in this shape. But what ruins the album most is Meat Loaf’s voice – it’s totally shot. Many singers lose their impact and range when they get older – from Paul Stanley to David Coverdale to Vince Neil (who never could sing in the first place) – are shadows of their past, but I’m afraid Meat Loaf beats all of them. The sad truth is that Meat Loaf can’t even get his voice to sound remotely good in the studio and that speaks volumes of how bad shape his voice is in. So if there’s any truth in the retirement rumors, then he his doing the right thing by doing that. In fact, he should have retired years ago – anyone remembers the horrific “The AFL Grand Final” performance he made in 2011? Forget about this album and listen to Meat Loaf’s older stuff, when he could sing, because he used to be a brilliant singer, instead. This is not the way an icon of Meat Loaf’s status should be remembered.
Older Meat Loaf reviews:
1. Who Needs The Young
2. Going All The Way Is Just The Start (A Song In 6 Movements) (feat. Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito)
3. Speaking In Tongues (feat. Stacy Michelle)
4. Loving You’s A Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It) (feat. Stacy Michelle)
6. Only When I Feel
9. Skull Of Your Country (feat. Cian Coey)
10. Train Of Love