The flesh, the puppy-fat on the mid-calf, the breasts, the upturned American nose… Richard Corben's evocation of teenage femininity is so right! The cover, though, is the product of an alternative universe, like everything else about this album. The nude gymnasium scene is out, along with the other title 'Renegade Angel'. In case you're unaware of what I'm on about: This is the second Meat Loaf album, the record you thought you'd never hear.
All Mr. Loaf had to do was overdub his vocals onto the completed meisterwork. But if the X million-plus sales of 'Bat Out Of Hell' had persuaded its creators to go overboard on the sequel budget, the surprise success had an even worse effect on the star. He opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come out. After too many tries it looked like accountants would be leaping from skyscrapers as three years and a hundred projected release dates on part two of an unlikely epic ate the dust and joined other unheard legends like The Beach Boys' 'Smile' and the fifth Velvets LP on the big shelf in the sky. From big bucks to bankruptcy, author Jim Steinman had his solo deal shelved. You can only take credibility so far. So what do we have here? The future of compromise, and it works!
Rock 'n' roll genius is never obvious. Jim Steinman is one of my two or three favorites, and if you haven't noticed him it's because he's been hiding in plain sight. His concept of a two-ton man singing eight-minute operatic heavy rock may now be considered vulgar populism, but that's the luxury of retrospective snobbery.
Steinman has now conducted the niftiest salvage job since Francis Ford Coppola brought 'Apocalypse Now' back alive from the jungle. His voice may lack the dynamic range of Meat Loaf's, but when you couple the fact that there's nothing like the real, old-fashioned songwriter singing his own material, with production and playing (again) by Todd Rundgren and some E-Street Mafia, you get a 'Bad For Good' that's a lot more than the pale shadow of what might have been. This is the new 'Bat Out Of Hell', if only the punters will realize it.
A lengthy, blood 'n' iron title declamation is followed by 'Lost Boys And Golden Girls' with Steinman ballading it up as a middle-American JM Barrie. 'Love And Death And An American Guitar' is one of Jim's favorite 'raps' - a sort of hybrid born of Lenny Bruce and James D. Morrison. It's a tale of death-by-Fender, but to give away the punchline would be a shame...
The first song ends with 'Stark Raving Love', a rock song which reveals Steinman's embracing of excess as culture. 'Too much is never enough', he declares as Todd's guitar gives off red and blue sparks from separate speaker enclosures. The other face of the LP opens up wide with a continuation of Jim's obsession with cliché as fodder for titles, which he milked on 'Bat'. 'Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)' is like two songs in one; a Doorsian vocal sex rocker, slashed open with a chorus that'd do Barry Manilow proud.
Indeed, this is the secret of how Steinman has already sold so many records via the Loaf. He's universal without sounding as if he's begging for sympathy. 'Surf's Up' (not the one you think it is) for instance, is a torch song about getting an erection (aren't they all), while 'Dance In My Pants' is a boy/girl dialogue with Karla DeVito like the one carried out by Meat on 'Bat'.
The closer, 'Left In The Dark', coming after 'Pants's Manilow-ish 'At The Copa' rhythms, is pure Carole Bayer Sager stuff, down to the last accusatory whisper. Steinman's genius is for synthesis; while appealing to Heavy Metal fans he can come across as pure Jimmy Van-Heusen. That's showbiz!
He's also an economist. One of 'Bad For Good's' worst extravagances was a session with the New York Philharmonic to allow Jim to live out his Bernard Herrmann fantasies. It cost more than most groups spend on an entire LP and proved too long to fit. But as a bonus for patiently waiting, you can hear Steinman emulating the 'overture' to '7th Voyage Of Sinbad' on 'Storm' (I checked), plus a Todd-ish hithithit, 'Rock 'n' Roll Dreams Come Through', both on a free EP.
A line in the latter goes: "someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs". These words he speaks are true. I only hope the fans don't get too confused by all this Orson Welles behavior...
'Bad For Good' is the one you've waited nearly four years for.