As you may know, Meat Loaf’s released a new album this month, called ‘Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose’. A quick Google search will show you that it’s not written and/or produced by Jim Steinman, the chap behind the first two ‘Bat’ albums in 1977 and 1993. In fact, there’s been a bit of backstage hoo-hahing about the album, as Messrs Loaf and Steinman have been engaged in a bit of legal fencing, it seems. Anyway, they’re all friends now (ahem), and so this new album – apparently the final one in the ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ series, has come out.
Well, I say “new”…
Okay, let me say this now, before I get into the petty criticism; I think that Jim Steinman is a remarkably gifted songwriter, and it’s an indication of his ability that his songs have a very distinctive sound; often a ridiculously overblown one, with several instrumental breaks, layers of sound piled on top of each other, and lyrics built on paradoxes and plays on words which lend themselves all too easily to parenthetical titles, but a distinct and unique sound nonetheless, and one which I like a heck of a lot. He’s a great songwriter, and in Meat Loaf he finds an ideal mouthpiece – the Hugh Grant to his Richard Curtis, if you will. But…
But the thing is, Jim’s not averse to a bit of recycling. A whole lot of it, if we’re honest, and in its way, that makes the claim that ‘Bat III’ features new songs a smidgin close to untrue. To be fair on Steinman, that claim’s more being made by the album’s label and publicists, who’ve also rather cheekily claimed that the album has been thirty years in the making (predating the original Bat Out Of Hell, inexplicably enough), but all this publicity (and even the sticker on the CD) rather suggests that Steinman’s involvement is greater than the 7 out of 15 tracks it actually is. Tsk.
And because it’s the way I think about things, I think an analysis of the man’s contributions is in order:
Track 3: It’s all Coming Back To Me Now
Does this song, Meat Loaf’s current single, sound familiar to you ? It should do, as this is the third time it’s been released. It was first released in 1989 by the Steinman-steered group Pandora’s Box, and then again in 1997 By Celine Dion. This is, however, the first time it’s been made into a duet. In all honesty, I don’t really think it works in this way, but I have a cynical suspicion that the phenomenal success of ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ makes the Loafster feel that duets are a good idea.
Track 4: Bad For Good
Is the title track of Steinman’s 1981 solo album. The album itself was intended as the follow-up to the original Bat Out Of Hell, but disputes between Steinman and Loaf (there does seem to be a theme here, doesn’t there?) led Steinman to sing his own vocals over the recorded backing tracks. For my money, the new version’s somehow got less fire to it, and the presence of Brian May’s distinctive guitar style is actually a little bit of a distracting element, accomplished though it is.
Track 6 : In The Land Of The Pigs (The Butcher Is King)
An oddly-titled track, and even more so when one considers that according to Steinman’s blog the correct title is in the singular – ‘The Land Of The Pig’, which does more readily echo the famous quote from Machiavelli. This song hasn’t been heard before, and (bizarrely though perhaps appropriately) it was from a never-produced Batman musical that Steinman was working on. It sounds like it, too, with a more obviously operatic feel, and whilst I can imagine it might work as part of a musical, it sounds rather out of place on Bat III.
Track 10: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It
Whilst one review I read suggested that this song might be about US Foreign Policy, I have my doubts, mainly as this song has been heard before, as part of the film soundtrack Steinman prepared for a 2003 made-for-MTV modernisation of Wuthering Heights. It’s a pretty decent track, though.
Track 12: Seize the Night
Is a funny old track; Steinman wrote this song for the German-language musical ‘Tanz der Vampire’, itself a stage adaptation of the Polanski film ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’. After a pretty successful run in Europe, the musical was taken to Broadway to star Michael Crawford, where it didn’t run for very long at all. So the song’s far from new – and even less so when one considers that its opening is taken from ‘The Storm’ on Steinman’s aforementioned solo album, and that the central guitar riff is a lift from ‘Back into Hell’, an instrumental track which appeared on Bat II. Perhaps because of this, the song feels a bit like a patchwork, and doesn’t really hang together. It’s all right, but its familiarity rather undermines any ‘sit up and pay attention’ possibilities.
Track 13: The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be
Another song which has been heard before in two different versions, and another one which has been turned into a duet. This was the finale on the aforementioned Pandora’s Box album, and was also used in the MTV Wuthering Heights film. It’s a good number, no question about it, though I think I prefer the original for no reason I can easily articulate.
Track 14: Cry To Heaven
Is another track that was rescued from the aborted Batman musical. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really go anywhere new, and I have to say that the other songs from the musical (under ‘Blog Mentioned Songs’ here) are a little more interesting, but granted they don’t really lend themselves so readily to a solo male vocal (or duet with a female vocalist).
… now, the reason I’ve even bothered to mention this stuff in such great detail is, I guess, that both the previous Bat albums were written and produced by Steinman (though 6 of Bat II’s 11 tracks were recycled, but let’s not get into that now). And so, in its way, Bat III is no more a ‘proper’ Bat Out Of Hell album than any of Loaf’s albums which have only featured a small number of Steinman contributions. Two other albums (Bad Attitude and Welcome to the Neighbourhood) have featured what are effectively cover versions of old Steinman songs, and neither of them has had anything like the success of the Bat albums, and I think the absence of Steinman is probably the link here.
So I rather feel that the marketing of Bat Out Of Hell III as an album in the series is, at best, misleading, and at worst, something of a money-getting scam. A shame, as it leaves me with rather a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing, and I’d previously enjoyed the collaborations between the two chaps, and this feels a bit unnecessary, and has that odd effect of retroactively souring my feelings about the original works, if you know what I mean. A shame, I think, and I wanted to explain why, rather than just making an offhand sneery comment about ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)*’, which would be the easy option – and if you don’t believe me, watch just how many comedians and writers take the release of Bat III as an opportunity to dust off their old material about the meaning of that song title…
*This title is, in itself, a recycle by Steinman from an earlier work: it appears as a spoken line in the song ‘Getting So Excited’ on the Bonnie Tyler album ‘Faster Than The Speed Of Night’, which Steinman didn’t write, but did produce.