Meat Loaf's Prime Cuts
By Richard Corliss
The '70s raver is reunited with composer Jim Steinman for a No. 1 album that celebrates sex, drums and rock 'n' roll.
THE TEEN COMMANDMENTS, as revealed in Bat Out Of Hell II:
- We'll never be as young as we are right now.
- You can't run away forever, but there's nothing wrong with getting a good head start.
- What about your school? It's defective! It's a pack of useless lies.
- Come on, come on, and there'll be no turning back. you were only killing time, and it'll kill you right back.
- You gotta learn to dance before you learn to crawl.
- Don't worry 'bout the futuresooner or later it's the past.
- If the thrill is gone, then it's time to take it back.
- No one said it had to be real, but it's gotta be something you can reach out and feel.
- And when you really, really need it the most, that's when rock-'n'-roll dreams come through for you.
- Goddammit, Daddy! You know I love you. But you got a hell of a lot to learn about rock 'n' roll.
THE PASSIONS IN THESE PSALMS ARE familiar: anguish, anomie fueling rage, solitude seeking fusion, a gonadal pulse that just won't quit. Ah yes, the soul of rock in its giddy, roiling infancy. The singing voice is familiar too. That pure tenorits piercing power and excellent elocution suggesting a glee-club star who's just been kneed by the school football coachcould belong only to Marvin Lee Aday, known to the world as Meat Loaf.
First as Eddie the zombie biker in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), then as star of writer-arranger Jim Steinman's ambitious album Bat Out Of Hell (1977), Meat Loaf gave clarion clout to rock's first decadent period. The Bat LP sold oodles; one cut (Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad) was a hit single; another (Paradise By The Dashboard Light) became an influential proto-video. And for a moment or two, Meat Loaf was a movie star.
His 15 minutes were soon up; by the end of the '80s, M. Loaf was coaching kids' baseball in Connecticut. Meanwhile, Steinman worked on several off- Broadway musicals and created some wondrously pretentious, infectious numbers for Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclipse Of The Heart) and the film Streets Of Fire. If the Druids had needed jingles for their oak-grove revelries, Steinman would have been the man to write them. But his songs needed Meat Loaf's urgency to lift their rude majesty to Ouch over High C. So the old colleagues reunited for Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell . . . it seemed as likely to hit the Top 40 as the piano stylings of Richard Klayderman.
It turns out that the savants had a lot to learn about retrograde, reprobate rock 'n' roll. Bat II slipped through a crack in the pop Zeitgeist to occupy the No. 1 slot on Billboard's album chart, above Nirvana and the other pricey rockers half Meat Loaf's age (46). Somebody must like this stuff, someone who remembers what rock once did and still could sound and feel like. Three, maybe four chords; an amoral homily twisted into a catch phrase; adolescent yearning and ecstasy so confused that they become harmony.
All right, nobody is young anymore - certainly not kids. And the speaker of Bat lI's songs is a bit frayed by time. In I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That), it's the woman whose long wish list needs to be satisfied ("Will you cater to every fantasy I got? Will you hose me down with holy water if I get too hot?") and the man who must oblige. He must also face mortality. In Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, he is haunted by three pushy ghosts: a friend, a father, a long lost love. The only substance this fellow abuses is beer; now he prays "to the God of Sex and Drums and Rock 'n' Roll."
But the deity is still Bacchus. Most of the songs are uptempo exhortations - anthems for Animal House. The rollicking Everything Louder Than Everything Else has a mantra ("A wasted youth is better by far/ Than a wise and productive old age") that could be the fight song for the University of Wisconsin marching band.
Anachronistic? Defiantly. The blood on these guitars is Chuck Berry red. The production reverbs with the heavenly choirs, sleigh bells and mausoleum echoes of Phil Spector's wailing Wall of Sound. The lyric lines are long and chatty, with more pomp to the bomp. Bat II is the '50s, '60s and '70s, packed in steel and wrapped in Mylar. Or go back even further. Meat Loaf is not quite Jussi Bjorling, and Steinman ain't no Wagner, but in rock terms Bat Out Of Hell II is a Gotterdammerung you can dance to.