Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell - Review
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critics' view

Bat Out of Hell is definitely an acquired taste. If you don’t like Andrew W.K. or The Darkness because they’re too cheesy then Meat Loaf probably isn’t your bag. If you can turn your brain off and just the music make you move, then you can love these bands.

The album starts with the title track, a nearly 10 minute epic, and one of the best openings of an album I have heard to this day. Meat Loaf only released one album previous to Bat Out of Hell, and it was nothing like Bat Out of Hell. The opening track of this album is the perfect introduction to what people are getting themselves into. With a ridiculously fast piano intro, coupled with wailing and chugging motorcycle guitars atop Weinberg hammering on the drums, you are immediately thrown into Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf’s gothic world. There is a full two minutes before Meat Loaf even sings, but once he does it’s the perfect topping to make you want more. At the end of the nearly 10 minute song, you are exhausted, and sweaty…or at least I always was when I danced to it in dirty basements in college.

The next track, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, has an amazing spoken word opening that is pulled directly from Steinman’s sci-fi Pan show, and is performed by Steinman himself along with actress Marcia Mclain. This opening has always been one of my favorite parts of the album. I’m not sure why, but just the absolute absurdity of it is incredible. Steinman’s less than stellar acting in the intro makes me laugh every time. As he is answering the woman’s questions of him, he decides, it seems, to become progressively angrier with her before finally just snapping an annoyed “Yes!” at her to get her to shut up. Then the ending of “I bet you say that to all the boys” and the explosion of the song… gives me goose bumps and makes me smile like an idiot every time and I’m not sure why.

The song itself is one of the strongest on the album. Weinberg’s drumming gives the song a fantastic bum-bumbum beat that drives the song perfectly, the backing vocals are well placed and orchestrated, and the breakdown at around 4:00 is a fantastic example of the Spector wall-of-sound that Rundgren was going for in production. Then the ending of handclaps and a Meat Loaf vocal ad-lib is a perfect capper.

The album then cools it down a notch with one of the fantastic ballads on the album, “Heaven Can Wait”. Everything about this song is overdramatic. The rising and soaring and then falling orchestra, the seemingly full choir background singers, the “Desperado”-sounding piano, and Meat Loaf emoting the shit out of the lines like “I know heaven can wait/and all the gods come down here just to sing for me/and the melody’s gonna make me fly without pain, without fear,” and “I’ve got a taste of paradise that’s all I really need to make me stay just like a child again.” This song is begging and pleading to be sung by a lone actor on stage in a lone spotlight with fake tears and lots of fist pumping and chest punching.

Things pick up again with “All Revved Up With No Place to Go” and its wailing Edgar Winter saxophone solo intro. That lone actor from the lone spotlight is now outside a party singing in the parking lot with a troupe of girls in short shorts dancing behind him while he sings to his girlfriend about wanting to take her virginity. The bass is pumping, the sax is slutty and rough, and the piano takes an upbeat turn before turning honky-tonk and letting the guitar speed up the tempo for a grand finale of glitter, spinning lights, and sweaty Meat Loaf. Seriously. Listen to it.

“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is one of the few weak points on the album. The drums are a little too reverb’d, and the melody and background harmonies are straight out of The Eagles. If you listen closely you could even swear that Joe Walsh and Glen Fry were singing in the backing chorus. This is one of the few songs that are out of place on the album. It’s out of place because it sounds normal… too normal. There isn’t anything epic about it at all. I would be just as comfortable with Don Henley singing it, and that’s not very comfortable. You know that line in The Big Lebowski about The Eagles? It’s about like that.

Good thing the album kicks back up the theatrics to a 10 afterward with “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” one of the most well known songs on the album. It is the song about that awkward moment of losing your virginity and/or touching a girl for the first time, and it is the song with the most theatrical moments. From quick style changes, quick tempo changes, the weird and random baseball play-by-play metaphor in the middle of the song, and then the vocal explosion of Ellen Foley and the subsequent duet with Meat Loaf, this song has it all. It’s easy to see why it was such a popular karaoke duet for all my theater friends in college. It allows you to act the lines out. As a matter of fact, you have to act it out because if you don’t then, well, what’s the point?

The album then ends with the more epic than fucking-epic track “For Crying Out Loud”. It starts out with the same “Desperado” piano that starts out “Heaven Can Wait” and the same emoting Meat Loaf. He is singing about all the amazing things that his girl has done for him in his life including making his “faded Levi’s” burst apart. From his giant package you see… that’s the joke… ahem.

Anyway, after that the piano kicks it up a bit and gets more raucous for the chorus, while Meat Loaf hits some ungodly notes with authority, before relaxing a bit for the next verse and just in time for the orchestra. The strings are weepy and moving, and Meat Loaf sings about laughing and crying to his love. Enter bass and brass then full orchestra for the next part. And then BOOM! Drums, cymbals, flutes, trumpets, tympanis, and one of the strongest moments of the whole album. It is usually the point on my road trip listen when I realize I am driving 95mph and I have blown my voice out. The mood then abruptly changes back to a somber tone before gradually building up to the powerful ending.

Just listening to this album while I wrote this made my heart race and made me wish my roommate wasn’t home so I could be singing as loudly as possible. I have a great appreciation for performers who understand the ridiculousness of the music they are making and embrace it, but still take it seriously enough to do it well. I am always amazed how great not only the musicians on Bat Out of Hell are, but how tight the compositions are, how well the tempo and mode changes fall together, and also how fucking great of a voice Meat Loaf has. Yes, I know the songs’ contents are silly and weird, but that’s part of the majesty of Meat Loaf and Bat Out of Hell. As Todd Rundgren said in a recent documentary on the album, there are certain lines that you could “only get away with in a Meat Loaf song.”

Meat Loaf has forged a genre of music that very few people can be fit into. He has a style 100% his own, and when you hear someone playing a similar song, you immediately know that they were listening to a lot of Meat Loaf at one time. It’s big, it’s theatrical, it’s bombastic, and it’s filled to the brim with testosterone, sweat, and rock. And I, for one, can’t get enough of it.

Nick Freed
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