The Hang of Music: BATTY!
Good Eeeeeveing; I am ze Maven of ze… WAIT, wrong creepy opening.
Wouldn’t you like to read something strange?
Come with me, and you will find
Yes, as it is Hallowe’en, I’m posting a review a day early, and I like to think I have a treat and a trick for you tonight.
No more spoilers! Listen, learn, and read on!
Right, I’ve been thinking about it, and what I don’t do enough of on this site is celebrate Halloween properly. I’ve got to be spooky, I’ve got to do something creepy and unsettling and perhaps a little bit kitschy. I thought for a while about which album might fit those criteria, and I think I’ve got an answer. So I’ve been sitting on it for a while, and now I finally get to listen to the halloween classic that is: Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”, obviously. Let’s listen…
… Wait, this is a cheesy pop song album? Huh? Er, hang on a moment. Actually, put this on while I get my head straight.
OK, I’m back now, and honestly I’m feeling a bit cheated. I was expecting creepy hard rock, bordering on metal, with a few references to Satan and his pal The Devil. Honestly, if you want a halloween review, I’d recommend you listen to this Audiovised review of “The Arockalypse”. Hell, it’s a concept album about movie monsters invading planet earth! But at any rate, I’m nothing if not professional, so here’s to Meat Loaf – let’s go!
Well, honestly, I’ve always heard a lot of people talk about this album; I’ve never actually heard anyone say anythingabout it, good or bad. OK, to get a lot of people to discuss it, then it has to be one or the other; really good or really bad. “Really MOR” doesn’t get you any attention.
I am kind of tempted to class this as “MOR”, though. It’s 80s rock with a lot of mass appeal and no threat; though that’s from my 2010s-and-desensetized perspective – maybe at the time, this was the height of vulgar and in your face. But I doubt it. What I would say it was was the sort of thing designed to appeal to teenagers who weren’t ready for the really hard stuff, but wanted to piss off their parents.
That sounds a lot harsher than I meant it to be, as this is, in that respect, a great stepping stone.
I know it’s snobby of me, but I distrust songwriters. Music should be written by the musicians themselves. It’s a question of integrity, and even of openness – if someone sings about something, I expect it to be something they felt, not someone else who thinks they can get away with it.* Though in this case they seem to work together really well – Jim Steinman, the songwriter, wrote big tunes, and wrote them well, while Meat Loaf sung them with huge style and bombast. That’s what I like to see in a collaboration. Even so, it sets my teeth on edge. Whatever. I’ll get over it.**
The wiki says that songwriter Jim Steinman was “influenced by Steinman’s appreciation of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen and The Who.” That is wrong, or at least incomplete. I can’t hear any of The Who or The Boss in this. What I can hear is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, released two years earlier, and featuring Meat Loaf in a supporting role. This album shares more with that than “Born to Run”. (Though saying that the track “For Crying Out Loud” shares some of the bigness of The Boss’ “Born To Run” [the track]. But so do Scott Walker, The Beatles, and any bond theme – that doesn’t indicate a sufficient connection!)
I can however hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the title track, which is an epic tune at 9 minutes 52, and with about as many changes partway through. Shame they didn’t mention that.
Musically, there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on. The tempo/key/SONG CHANGE halfway through “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, where the in-universe radio comes on, is so bizarre, it’s the sort of thing Zappa could have gotten away with. That’s also where the song really starts – suddenly it’s chugging along at a massive pace, and everything is louder than everything else.
It’s also my high point of the album. More so even that “Bat Out Of Hell”, the song, whcih is freaking amazing. Bat Out of Hell had me punching the air within minutes of it registering what it was doing. Both of them did. For the record, they’re both big, highly orchestrated and wildly changing melodramatic pieces.
But here’s the key difference between the two songs: the changes in style are crucial for both, but they in “Paradise…”, they actually work. They’re required by the song – as the couple’s… shenanigans change, so does the song, and when they begin to argue over what they see this relationship becoming, the tunes change to reflect their voices and urgency. Whereas in Bat Out of Hell the changes seem extravagant, in “Paradise…” they seem necessary.
Though these two songs are great, though, the rest of the album seems a little bit flat. Perhaps it’s by comparison. None of the others are as interesting, even nearly. OK, there’s a fantastic opening to “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”, and none of the songs are bad, none of them really go for the jugular, despite the above mentioned intro talking about just that.
Look, this album is not at all what I expected, but that’s not always a bad thing. I like to be surprised. There is some really fantastic musicianship and construction going on here, and I applaud it. And you could argue that maybe it’s just bides its time with the amazingly cool drama. Maybe not every song needs to be fist pumping awesome. I just kind of think that every track that isn’t “Bat Out Of Hell” or “Paradise…” is too dull for people with as much bite as Steinman and Meatloaf have demonstrated they have.
But the pair of them also made me jump; and that’s a good start.
BY THE WAY, MEATLOAF HAS ENDORSED ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT, THE POOR MAN MUST HAVE LOST HIS MIND.
* It’s for this same reason that I find the feminist and female-perspective elements of “The Long Blondes”‘s songs a tad unsettling – as they were written by lead guitarist Dorian Cox.
** Though I do notice that Steinman and The Loaf split up, when Steinman began to feel that Meat Loaf was hogging all the attention and credit. Duh! Isn’t that the point of being a songwriter in this sort of relationship – someone else taking centre stage?