Baltimore Sun

Jim Steinman seems perfectly cast as a rock 'n' roll eminence grise. He's definitely a man with a vision - a complete package of sound, image and mystique - but it's one fashioned for and performed by others. Consequently, Steinman's biggest successes as a songwriter and producer invariably have someone else's name up in lights, while his moniker is relegated to the fine print and album credits.

Others might find that situation horribly frustrating, but Steinman, in classic man-behind-the-scenes fashion, merely chuckles. His latest success, "Bat Out Of Hell Il: Back Into Hell" may have Meat Loaf's name writ large on the album cover, but that hardly matters to Steinman.

"I think of it as my album, starring Meat Loaf," he says over the phone from New York. "I mean, to me, it was like the Who - he was Roger Daltrey, I was Peter Townshend - except we didn't have the band name."

"Bat Out Of Hell" was actually only a moderate success upon its initial release in 1977, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard albums chart, but Steinman knew that it continued to sell steadily over the years - in fact, it just earned its ninth platinum award. So when the opportunity arose to work with Meat Loaf again, Steinman leapt at the chance, convinced that the combination had a certain magic in the marketplace.

Others were not so sure.

"It felt right to me," says Steinman. "I was fairly cocky making this record. But I know at MCA, they were talking about Spinal Tap II."

Needless to say, such fears were groundless. ''Bat Out Of Hell II" was an immediate smash, topping the album charts and so far delivering two smash-hit singles.

Naturally, Meat Loaf got nearly all of the attention. But despite all the stories heralding Meat Loaf's comeback, Steinman points out that the singer released eight solo albums while between bats.

"They were terrible," he says. "It can't be easy for Meat to know he put out all those records and they didn't work, because at some level he's going to feel, 'What - do I have to have Steinman with me?' "

Maybe not, but there's definitely a certain chemistry between the two. "In one sense, we actually do love each other, because we were created for each other," says Steinman.

"But there's a very uneasy truce. (On the tour for the first album) he would have huge tantrums about, 'I'm not the Frankenstein monster,' because people would say that I was Dr. Frankenstein and he was the Frankenstein monster. I would have to soothe him and say, 'No, no - you're Marion Brando and I'm Francis Coppola.'"

Consequently, Steinman has not been a part of Meat Loaf's road show. "I go and join it every now and then," he says. "I did a song with him at Madison Square Garden, I did a couple of songs in Toronto at Maple Leafs Garden. I go in and out."

"He really sees (touring) as his domain," Steinman adds. "I'm interpreting, but I'm pretty sure he thinks that my world is the studio, where he's pretty much subjugated, and his is the stage, and I should surrender to that. And I guess I have to respect that."