Monday, January 24, 2022

Monday Mix: An Introduction to Meat Loaf

I am a big Meat Loaf fan.

Bat Out of Hell II, alongside Ace of Base's The Sign, was the first album I bought at the Greendale Mall Lechmere with my own money back in 1994. "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" was one of the first music videos I ever remember seeing on VH1.

As a nerdy theater kid, Meat Loaf's (and, to a further extent, Jim Steinman's) flair for the bombastic and dramatic definitely appealed to 13-year-old me, and the fact that it was loud and often-profane rock music in an era where I was finding Weezer to be a little too heavy for my tastes made it feel like a little rebellion with every listen.

Meat Loaf probably hasn't aged well, musically speaking. Yeah, there's Rocky Horror, but Bat Out of Hell, a debut solo album that went neck-and-neck with Thriller in lifetime sales for a while, sounds very old in particular (and "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" especially couldn't get made today). The albums between Bats are largely forgettable and often contractual obligations. When Jim Steinman wasn't involved, a little bit of the magic was lost. When Jim Steinman was involved, the magic was there in songs that were 6-to-12 minutes long but never felt like it. He somehow made a Chuck D feature seem cringeworthy. He's dead today almost certainly because he, an overweight 70-something, wouldn't get vaccinated against COVID-19.

And yet.

Meat Loaf transcends the idea of "cool." Bat Out of Hell II, a breakthrough comeback effort, did not win me any friends in eighth grade (except for Brian, who memorized the "Wasted Youth" monologue and would snarl it on the playground at recess), but I didn't care. Goodness knows I listened to plenty of embarassing stuff in my years, but I never felt embarassed about my love of Meat Loaf. How could I? It seemed self-aware that it was ridiculous and over-the-top, and, after all, the albums had dragons and demons and flaming motocycles on the covers. They knew exactly what they were doing, and while it poked fun at metal excess, it also revered it in its own operatic way.

Meat Loaf and Steinman had a falling out of sorts in the mid-to-late 1980s, patched it up for Bat Out of Hell II and a handful of songs on Welcome to the Neighborhood before falling apart again and reuniting for Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, which was a solid coda to their professional relationship. The last few albums were largely forgettable, which was unfortunate, but man, when Meat Loaf was good? There wasn't a lot that was better, and nearly every significant moment that will forever be etched in my brain is when he worked with Jim Steinman, and now they're both gone.

The disputes with labels and Steinman means that about a decade of work is missing from streaming services, including Meat Loaf's version of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," (which was a megahit for Celine Dion a decade earlier) and his last truly solid song, "Couldn't Have Said It Better." It makes any sort of effort at a retrospective incomplete, but consider this a bit of a start - if you want to explore further, anything with Bat Out of Hell or Neighborhood in the title are worth your time, but this should also be a reason to explore Jim Steinman in a more substantive way (I'd start with [his version of "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through"] ( Either way, RIP Meat Loaf, and thanks for the music. And get vaccinated, please.

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