Monday, 22 February 2021

MEAT LOAF: Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell


(#487: 18 September 1993, 1 week; 2 October 1993, 1 week; 16 October 1993, 1 week; 30 October 1993, 3 weeks; 27 November 1993, 5 weeks)


Track listing: I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)/Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back/Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through/It Just Won’t Quit/Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)/Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are/Wasted Youth/Everything Louder Than Everything Else/Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)/Back Into Hell/Lost Boys And Golden Girls


This one goes out to Emma Mahn, my hairdresser for the past thirty-two years, who is an uber-fan of Meat Loaf and knows far more about the man and his music than you or I ever will. She has collected rare overseas pressings of his albums, has travelled the globe to see him perform, and has even met with the man himself. Nobody knows Meat Loaf like Emma does and really I should have passed this album on to her to write about. Still, I will do my inadequate best.


Bat Out Of Hell II was a sequel which had been awaited for a decade and a half by many people, not least Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, and its overwhelming success – no album outsold it in 1993 Britain, where it went sextuple-platinum – was as florid and magnified as the record itself.


Things had not been good for Meat Loaf since last I spoke about him. Prevented from working with Steinman because of various financial and legal disputes, his discography had declined into a series of diminishing returns. For 1983’s Midnight At The Lost And Found, Steinman had offered him first refusal on the songs “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” but the singer’s record label at the time refused to pay for them, so Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply respectively ended up with the million-sellers. His two subsequent albums, Bad Attitude and Blind Before I Stop, did little to resuscitate his reputation, as did his unfortunate appearance on a best-forgotten British gameshow which involved certain members of the Royal Family, and at one point during this fallow period he essayed an alternative career as a stand-up comedian.


However, he remained a popular live act, and towards the end of the eighties he and Steinman reconciled; changing his management team at Steinman’s suggestion, the two went on to piece together Bat Out Of Hell II. Most record companies smirked at their plan. Hey, Grandpa Walton, New Kids On The Block are where it’s at!


This story starts with another turnaround, a relation of the first one; in one of the quieter corners of Bonnie Tyler's Faster Than The Speed Of Night is a song entitled "Getting So Excited." The twist is that she is in a crowd, maybe with someone, maybe not, but it is "they," i.e. everyone else, who are "getting excited" whereas she is "getting bored." At a neighbouring table in the club, or the restaurant, she hears someone make a wisecrack - "I would do anything for love, but I wouldn't do that!" - rendered as a gag, or rendered in the same sense that the loss of somebody else's love would be regarded as a "drag," a minor administrative inconvenience. To her it is the equivalent of the mustard stain in the lower left crotch of his jeans in which she can spot the encroaching advent of betrayal, double-dealing and, yes, screwing around if she chooses to take him, or be taken by him, any further.


A decade later. the object of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" responds; and his response has to be as big as he himself is - there would be no purpose in a pint-sized Meat Loaf. He's visited other, duller places in the interim but he remembers what it was like in his 1977. The songs, narratives of intricately-patterned rhetorical repetitions, are proclamations or soliloquies with the potential to turn into duets. "I'd Do Anything For Love" has to be twelve minutes (and one second) long; that is how long it takes for the story to be told, for him to work out his own emotions and feelings and for her to give her definite response.


Steinman wanted the full-length album version to be issued as a single, but no radio station would dare play it, so a compromised six-minute edit was worked out, even though the full version appeared on twelve-inch and thus qualifies as the longest UK number one single to date. Over twice the length of "Bohemian Rhapsody," "I'd Do Anything" doesn't feel long (back to that in a moment or twelve); it justifies its length since there is no padding out and a genuine story is being told. Steinman is the man who succeeded in uniting the two diverging 1968 trends of rock becoming rockier, or more rockist, and pop becoming, in the hands of Jimmy Webb, Scott Walker and the Ryans, longer and more discursive; if Paul and Barry Ryan had carried on, the first Bat Out Of Hell is, as Barry Ryan himself admitted, where they would have ended up.


But "I'd Do Anything" is also the only number one to involve Todd Rundgren (both arranging and part-performing the Greek chorus backing vocals), and his decisively indecisive adventures with fusing the pop song and the rock epic clearly laid some of the groundwork - as befits a Rocky Horror Show graduate, Meat Loaf is fully aware of and content with his absurdity (in the true commedia dell'arte sense of the word), so the running commentaries and Sondheim proscenium pauses of "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights" in the year of punk were, in their own logical, post-Springsteen way, entirely punk.


The song begins with the motorcycle revving up to burst out of "Hell" again (skilfully mimicked by lead guitarist Eddie Martinez, of Quiet Riot and also of Run-DMC's "King Of Rock"), soon joined by Roy Bittan's umbrella-defying raindrops of piano cycles before all stops to admit the man himself, engaged in his ongoing discourse: "...And I would do anything for love...but I won't do that."


The central fallacy of most critical responses to this song is the bafflement over what "that" actually is, which is why you need the full version, since Meat Loaf carefully itemises exactly what he will not do in the lead-up to each chorus - "I'll never forget the way you feel right now," "I'll never lie to you and that's a fact," "I'll never forgive myself if we don't go all the way."


The music is triumphant, and give or take the odd Fairlight burst it sounds exactly as it would have done a decade and a half previously, with unrepentently grandiose keyboards, crashing drums (an especially fine performance by Kenny Aronoff) and a general "Don't Stop Me Now" feeling which both justifies and transcends its epic environment since the song is to do with the singer's desired generosity, both spiritual and carnal.


"No one can save me now but you," he cries at one point, but elsewhere is at pains to assure her that he will do his best not to fail her, even though he knows, as well she does, that she's only human: "And some days it don't come easy/And some days it don't come hard," "And some nights you're breathing fire/And some nights you're carved in ice," but individual failings don't matter because there is something greater being pledged here - "As long as the planets are turning/As long as the stars are burning" over the sort of vintage chord changes one thought had been banished from pop by then, the world's axis slowing down and stopping once more as Meat Loaf pauses for thought, because every negative is met by a positive: "And some nights I lose the feeling/And some nights I lose control/Some nights I just lose it all/When I watch you dance as the thunder rolls!"


But what will she say to all of this? You can sense the lump forming in his throat with his "so long" (and when he sings "so long" he means it in THAT sense) and his climactic "But I'll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life, no way," sounding as if he's about to collapse on the "no way."


Then she comes back – credited as "Mrs Loud" on the album, she is actually Newcastle singer Lorraine Crosby, who appears elsewhere on the record under her own name (Cher, Melissa Etheridge and, indeed, Bonnie Tyler herself were considered for the role, but in the end Steinman opted to run with the guide vocals which Crosby had already laid down) with her now open and unambiguous requests to stop her from falling apart every now and then: "Will you raise me up? Will you help me down? Will you get me right out of this godforsaken town? Will you make it all a little less cold? Will you hold me sacred, will you hold me tight? Can you colonise my life - I'm so sick of black and white? Can you make it all a little less old?" And he enthusiastically nods "I can do that!" in response to all of these pleas, and more ("Can you build an emerald city with these grains of sand?" "Will you hose me down with holy water if I get too hot?").


And then she proffers the ultimate test. "I know the territory, I've been around. It'll all turn to dust and we'll all fall down. Sooner or later you'll be screwing around."


He is genuinely shocked at the thought; it is clear that it has never even occurred to his mind. "No...I won't do that," he sings quietly but with absolute favour. One more chorus, now just with the piano; they embrace, Heathcliff opens the door, they are home. Turned around. Cathy, he seems to whisper, come into me.


The album continues its deeper and darker ways. “Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back” is a hilarious rant against global ills – though admittedly possibly not quite so hilarious in the current climate - and is superior to the collected whimpering works of Phil Collins. Through “Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through” (so much more convincing than Steinman’s own reading, back in 1981) and “Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” you remember, hell, they mean this stuff! “Dreams” is a hymn to the power of music to escort one out of hell (its refrain of “Keep on believing” accidentally, or perhaps not so accidentally, anticipates Journey). In “Frying Pan” the singer seeks love and salvation in a heated world which is literally melting. In between those songs, “It Just Won’t Quit” recasts love as a self-destructive mania, though in its general where-did-my-LIFE-go air it also sounds uncomfortably contemporary now.


“Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are," which runs just over ten-and-a-quarter minutes, consitutes nothing less than Meat Loaf and Steinman’s own “MacArthur Park”; the same tripartite structure, the air of seasonal fallacies leading to death and resurrection – the song has plenty to say, and celebrate, about cars and girls, but beneath these matters lies a mightily messed-up childhood; it is the singer being forced to look back at his own life, at the shit which happened and changed him – the death of a close boyhood friend, paternal brutality and his first fuck - and how he eventually tore through all of that crap (two out of the above three ain’t bad – “she” is literally regarded as a resurrection; “…I can [see] her rising out of the back seat now/Just like an angel rising up from the tomb”) and succeeded in living again.


If “Wasted Youth,” a crazed, destruction-worshipping monologue delivered with worrying enthusiasm by Steinman himself, had appeared on Sub Pop it would have caused a sensation. Actually it had appeared, under the title of “Love And Death And The American Guitar,” on Steinman’s 1981 album, Bad For Good, as had versions of “Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through,” “Out Of The Frying Pan” and “Lost Boys And Golden Girls”; in addition, his 1989 album Original Sin, performed by the specially-assembled girl group Pandora’s Box, included readings of “Good Girls Go To Heaven” and “It Just Won’t Quit.”


Then it’s straight-down-the-line rock and roll – as straight as a corkscrew, really, but Rundgren, who I suspect had more to do with this album than simply orchestrating the backing vocals, is audibly in his element cheerleading the deliberate outrages of “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” and “Good Girls Go To Heaven.”


Finally, “Lost Boys And Golden Girls” takes a melancholy, but not defeated, look at the Peter Pan story and erases its inherent tragedy as though to proclaim; look, we made it, we’re still here. The children who don’t grow up but don’t settle for being passive consumers.


Really, you either buy into the Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman creed or you remain an amused, or sceptical, outsider. If the latter, you may consider many of these songs as overly, rhetorically repetitive, a vulgarian variant on Springsteen. If you see life as a Broadway musical – or if it is indeed a highway, and one’s soul is just the car, as is proposed in “Objects” - then this is what is playing on the car stereo, on the dashboard.


If you believe in the game which Meat Loaf and Steinman seem to wish to play, however, you might regard Bat Out Of Hell II as being one of the profoundest commentaries rock has ever offered about the awkward subject of getting old, and woe betide Meat Loaf, or Steinman, or any of you or us, if he or he or you or we ever did.


But dig deep, and catch what the singer is saying amidst the sod-you contrarianism of “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” – six times does he say it – “A wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age!”


The problem with assumed perfection is that, as will be demonstrated in tomorrow's essay, some people took that adage deadly seriously.