Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Early (Sad) Impression: Meat Loaf - Braver Than We Are

My musical history begins with Meat Loaf. The first single I ever bought was "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)", and the first album I ever bought was "Bat Out Of Hell II". Suffice it to say, I have been in many ways shaped by the songs of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. They are a part of who I am, for better or worse, and while it isn't fair to judge a complete album off of 90 second samples of each track, I heard enough in the first tastes of the upcoming "Braver Than We Are" to speak up.

I'm afraid that this album is going to be a sad, sorry ending to a truly legendary collaboration.

That thought was running through my mind before any information about the album had been made public. Meat Loaf had already recorded nearly every Steinman song of note, which didn't leave me with optimism that an entire album of material could be found that lived up to expectations. And since Steinman has not been actively writing for years, we were bound to do one of Steinman's favorite tricks; cannibalizing his own catalog.

The ten tracks on the album are mostly songs pulled from musicals Steinman has written, and a rehashing of "Loving You Is A Dirty Job". That is a frightening thought. Musicals are an entirely different world than Wagnerian rock and roll, and as expected, the two do not mesh here at all. Despite having heard these songs before, performed in different guises by different singers, these are uniformly slower, flatter versions that suck the life and energy out of them. "More" wasn't the greatest song when it was written and demoed for a Batman musical, but in this form it's even less engaging, for a reason I'll get to soon.

We also get a song written for the defunct project The Dream Engine, "Speaking In Tongues", which is utterly embarrassing for everyone involved. The entire song is built around images of trees, just so we can get the pun, "you've got a spark, I've got wood." Yes, because we need to men in their mid sixties making jokes about erections. I thought it was the lowest moment of Meat's career when he sang the line "I can barely fit my dick in my pants", but at least that was in the guise of an overblown, bragging song. This pun comes in a tender, reflective ballad. It's too juvenile even for Steinman's love of teenage angst.

And I'm not sure how I can ever listen to "Skull Of Your Country" without being reminded that it was turned into something so much better in "Total Eclipse Of The Heart". I understand Steinman recycles, but leaving in the "turn around bright eyes" motif, when it's already world famous in another song, is a decision that begs me to compare this album to ones that are worlds better.

But the worst part of all is the sad fact that Meat Loaf can no longer do this music justice. His voice has been declining in recent years, and from what I have heard here, he is beyond repair. His voice is not just rough, but it's small. The larger than life character of Meat Loaf has been reduced to a singer who can't keep up with any of the women guesting on these tracks. He is flat out out-sung not only by them, but in places by his own backup singers. It's shocking how old he sounds, missing notes and lacking any of the power or passion we've come to know from him. The time for retirement sounds like it's already passed.

If Meat Loaf wanted to finish his career with one more tribute to Steinman, I can think of a better way to do it. My advice would have been to take every great Steinman track he never recorded, and the ones he recorded without the man's input, and redo them one more time under his care. Not only would it have capped off a fitting relationship, it would have removed the need to have a string of albums that neither man wants to remember. I can imagine an album with Steinman-helmed versions of "Bad For Good", "Original Sin", "Left In The Dark", "Nowhere Fast", "It's All Coming Back To Me Now", "Surf's Up" and "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young".

That would be something truly special. What we're getting instead is a reheated plate of leftovers that we didn't want the first time.

I will give the full album a chance when it comes out, but I think this will be my lone statement about it. I'm too depressed right now to consider writing a more formal review.


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  2. Chris,
    "More" was co-written and co-produced by Jim Steinman and Andrew Eldritch for The Sisters Of Mercy album "Vision Thing", which was released in 1990, way before it was demoed for the Batman Musical. Either way both versions are far superior than the one found in the Braver Than We Are album. Agree with you on it being a rather sad state of affairs. Karine Hanna's version of the song "Braver Than We Are"(which was actually produced by Jim) is also a whole lot better than the one Meat Loaf did for the album.

    1. The version for The Sisters Of Mercy slipped my mind, since I was never fond of it. The main point is still accurate, that Karine's version is far, far superior.

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  4. Reviewer!! You forget that Steinman has made dick jokes in his songs LOOONG before "Speaking In Tongues" (see "For Crying Out Loud").

    Also, Jim had full involvement in Braver Than We Are, providing all the songs and ideas for the arrangements. His involvement in the production was limited because he is ill at the moment. Nonetheless, Jim is more than happy with Paul Crook's production.

    You say you want to hear an album were Meat re-records every Steinman composition ever, but before you talk about "how old he sounds, missing notes and lacking any of the power or passion we've come to know from him". True, his voice has not aged well in the past 10 years, but at least he tries to compensate with singing lower register melodies. And why would we want him to re-record "Bad For Good" or "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" when he ALREADY recorded those songs merely 8 years ago?

    Besides, why would you expect artists to do something that comes off as them attempting to relive the glory days? Meat can't go back in the past. He's not going to sound like he did on Bat Out of Hell, let alone Bat Out of Hell II. Some of the songs might be recycled, but let's remind ourselves. Every song Steinman has ever written has been written with idea of Meat Loaf singing them.

    Personally, when I heard about this collaboration, I didn't completely expect it to be as good, let alone better than the previous Bat Out of Hell albums, but I at least it would be better than Hang Cool Teddy Bear and Hell In A Handbasket. And, if I'm lucky, it would be better than the hot mess that was Bat Out of Hell III.

    Bottom line, everyone knew what they were doing and if this is the final collaboration between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, then it seems like a high note to go out on!

    1. I did not forget that Steinman has made dick jokes throughout his career. I'm merely noting that there's a difference between someone who is in their 20s or 30s doing it, and someone in their 60s. The former is often in poor taste, but can be funny. The latter is a creepy attempt to refute the aging process.

  5. More by Sisters of Mercy is among Steinmans best work. And the adaption for the Batman musical is probably one of my favorite Steinman compositions. There are so many layers to it. Just sayin'. :)

  6. The long awaited collaboration between Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf is bold and experimental, grand and subtle when it needs to be, something that seems to be missing from much of today’s music. In the Steinman tradition, each song sounds more like a mini opera that tells its own story, and the production-by Paul Crook- is amazing, if you can get behind the off the wall theatrics of the album.
    Album highlights include: Who Needs The Young, Souvenirs, and More.
    Who Needs The Young as an opener is just inspired. It's like a creepy, mishmash circus has just rolled into town and the ringmaster is stepping up to the crowd. There is a dark comedy about it – the Steinman touch. It has been said that the track was originally destined to be part of the original Bat album, and considering it is one of Steinman’s oldest pieces that is plausible enough, but it was considered too vile for the times. Meat’s precise delivery of every syllable, something that rings through the album, heightens the bizarre air around the song. Backing vocals under the arrangement of Justin Avery are spectacular and not unlike some of Steinman’s own arrangements of the past, and again they add to this strange circus of horrors feel and engulf you in a multi-layered, visual masterpiece for the ears.
    Souvenirs is another early Steinman track now getting the Meat Loaf treatment, albeit with something a little reminiscent of a late 70s/early 80s Bob Dylan thanks to some wonderful organ and horns. As with so many songs, there are links to previously released works – specifically the melodic similarity to Left in The Dark which Meat recorded for 1995’s Welcome To The Neighborhood, which featured on Steinman’s own Bad For Good album and, for completeness, was also released by Barbara Streisand. Souvenirs predates these and was probably the first time the melody was used. This is one of the things that the album has going for it in abundance, much of what you hear sounds instantly familiar yet new thanks to small sections of melody, repeated lyrics and chord progressions that are all part of the Steinman trademark. Another lyrical tour de force, containing the same heart-wrenching grit of classic tracks such as For Crying Out Loud, and coming in at over 8 minutes long is another standout piece on the album.
    More was originally recorded by the Sisters of Mercy and has been used in MTV’s Wuthering Heights remake. A modern, driving rocker which comes in two parts, one of which will be familiar again to Steinman fans who have heard his Batman demos. Meat’s vocal again changes throughout the track, pulling back on some parts and growling through on others.
    To summarize, this is an album that has been a long time coming, and if you are on board with the direction and the style that has been done, as I was from the first moment, then this is likely to be right up there in your estimation with anything the pair have put out.

  7. Your best album ever.. you are so theatrical and so dam talented.. I really hope that they take your new music and turn it into a Broadway show.. you are so extremely talented.. always a fan, Diana

  8. Your best album ever.. you are so theatrical and so dam talented.. I really hope that they take your new music and turn it into a Broadway show.. you are so extremely talented.. always a fan, Diana