Wednesday, 26 October 2016
October #1 - Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman
1. Meat Loaf - Going All The Way (Is Just The Start)
First up, if you don't like Meat Loaf, you can skip along to the next blog right now. You've made up your mind about that a long time ago and neither this record - nor anything I write about it - will change that opinion. But if you've ever given Meat the time of day, stick around with open ears... and an open mind.
To say I've been looking forward to this record, the reunion between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, is something of an understatement. It's been 23 years since they last did a full album together, and that was 12 years since the previous one and 16 since their first. At risk of irking the musos even more than I usually do, this is as big as Morrissey and Marr recording together again (not as The Smiths, obviously)... or Billy Joel releasing a new album. (Hahahaha: I'm equally serious about both those comparisons, and somewhere a muso just stabbed my voodoo doll with a rusty stylus.)
But you can build something like this up way too much, and let's face it, the Moz-Marr reunion would probably be as damp a squib as the Stone Roses comeback (though I'd grin and bear it and play it to death all the same) while Billy would struggle to match We Didn't Start The Fire these days, let alone his classic 70s output. So I've been fully prepared for Braver Than We Are to be a disappointment, ever since it was announced as "Coming Spring 2015"...
When it finally "dropped"*, 18 months later, I followed the link to the first single, and was predictably bummed. At 11 1/2 minutes of full-on bombast, this operatic "Song in 6 Movements" felt like Steinman finally falling victim to self-parody. I sat back and waited for the album with a heavy feeling in my gut, and the first reviews did little to offer any relief. "Meat's voice is a wreck," they whinged. "It's not a new album of Steinman material at all," they carped, "just cobbled together leftovers with the occasional 'new song' thrown in!" One reviewer even swore he was the biggest Bat Out of Hell fan ever before calling Braver Than We Are the worst album he'd ever heard, saying he'd had to force himself to listen to it again just to write the review. Wow, First World Problems of Irked Musos... doesn't your heart just bleed?
On finally encountering the beast then, I was prepared for the worst, and the first few times I listened to it, I did wonder if my lack of outrage was just a brave face forced upon me by decades of hero worship (for Steinman primarily, Meat to a lesser degree). And then something weird happened. I fell in love with the freak... and that love affair began with the very song I'd rejected at the start.
Going All The Way Is Just The Start may well be the ultimate Jim Steinman song. No, it's not better than Bat, Paradise, Dead Ringer, Total Eclipse, More Than You Deserve or Objects In The Rearview Mirror. It's not up there with the classics. But it does do everything you want from a Jim Steinman song, and then some. It's 12 minutes of roaring guitars, Roy Bittan-esque piano, ridiculous, overblown imagery, layer upon layer upon layer of melodramatic tosh like the very best rock 'n' roll has to offer. It grows and builds and crescendos like it's the very last song at the end of the world, like if it just keeps on going, maybe we won't have to turn out the lights after all. If this is, as widely assumed and reported, the very last Meat Loaf record and the last will and testament of Jim Steinman, then it does the job just fine.
Yes, there are problems. Meat's voice, first and foremost. There's no denying it's long past its best. I saw an interview with him where he claimed Steinman had insisted he sang every song in the lower register, and that was probably Jim just being kind. He even struggles a bit with that. There are hundreds of vocalists who could have done a better job on this album, but none would have made the same emotional connection to Steinman's last full batch of songs. This had to be a Meat Loaf album, even if he sang it with his dying croak. Steinman describes Meat's performance as "heroic", and I honestly believe there's a truth to that: it's more than just the usual JS-BS. Plus, Jim has a back-up plan to help out the biggest song, dragging both Ellen Foley AND Karla De Vito back from Hell to pitch in: what should have been a duet becomes a grand ménage à trois. Together again for the very first time, these three really are Crusaders of the Heart.
So ignore the musos. If you ever loved Meat 'n' Jim, give this album a try. Be brave: persevere with it as it I did and you will come to love it.
(*I'll discuss that word another time, suffice it to say I'm using it ironically.)