erasing clouds

Love Without Guilt: More Meat Loaf, Please.

by paul jaissle

February into March is usually the lowpoint of my year. As spring struggles to uproot Old Man Winter, my slowly worsening seasonal depression reaches its most dire. A direct result of this is the sudden realization that none of the music I own is in the least bit appealing: none of the hundreds of CDs clogging my shelves and spilling out all over my room sound good. It's a horrible rut that I find myself in right about this time of year. However, the past two weeks I have found deliverance in the form of an album I'd owned for years without fully appreciating: Meat Loaf's 1977 opus Bat Out Of Hell.

What exactly could I find so appealing about an album released a full 5 years before my birth which features the vocal talents of a 300 pound man named Meat? Well, based on that detail alone, what's not to like? Seriously though, I am fully aware that all logic dictates that I shouldn't like this album nearly as much as I have lately, but somehow I have been fully enchanted in the over-blown production and showtune-like quality of the whole affair. Some would call it a guilty pleasure, but why should I feel guilty or appologize about liking something? And I am certainly not being ironic by embracing the album: I don't have the time or energy to like something simply to be ironic. No, this is a genuine love for Meat Loaf Aday and Jim Steinman's absurd creation that captured the minds of millions in the late 1970s.

It is important to point out the importance of Jim Steinman in all of this. He is the tortured artist behind the album who's piano-bashing and bad junior high notebook poetry provided the basis for the whole deal. Obviously Steinman set out to create a set of moving songs, and the album does play out like one of those "concept albums" which were all too common during this period, but it was initially hard to get over the whole Broadway review feel of the songs. But as un-appealing as showtunes are to me, it is hard to deny their catchiness and that certainly is the case with Bat Out of Hell. I challenge anyone not to sit through "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" without suddenly breaking into tune along with the under-age lovers characters. And could you ask for a moving ballad than "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" (which includes the absolutely line 'I know you're looking for a ruby in a pile of rocks, but there ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box')? If you did, you might get "Heaven Can Wait," the best 70s piano ballad Elton John never wrote.

And no matter how absurd the songs may sound, it is very hard to deny that Mr. Aday delivers such lines as 'I was a Varsity tackle and a hell of a block/And when I played my guitar I made the canyons rock' with a level of sincerity that most singers would kill to possess. That is the secret weapon here: everyone involved with the album clearly believed in it and their passion comes through the speakers loud and clear. Producer Todd Rundgren understands that the whole album rests on the songs' arrangements: such over-the-top songs require a fully bombastic approach in order to function and sound fully realized and not thrown together. Just listen to the layered production on 'Paradise' and album opener 'Bat Out Of Hell' (which features Rundgren on "Motorcycle guitar" according to the credits): it may be overkill but how else would these types of songs function? They were obviously written on piano and require a certain level of accompaniment in order to sound right. Take the closing number 'For Crying Out Loud' for example: it starts with just Meat and Steinman's piano before stopping and returning atop a bed of strings and suddenly bursting into a full-on orgasm of thundering drums and horn blasts. The emotional impact of the production is undeniable. The production is the key here, especially the little details like when the drummer double-times on the high-hat when Meat Loaf sings 'Nothing ever rocks and nothing ever rolls' on the title track, or when everything but his voice and the drums drop out during the up-tempo part during 'All Revved Up With No Place To Go.' In fact, not a single note of this album sounds out-of-place or unnecessary.

Who would have ever guessed a timid piano player with a penchant for writing songs based on colloquialisms and an over-weight fellow named after a popular dinner dish could craft such a brilliant masterwork? Or that it would be such a hit? Or that I would spend so many words proclaiming my love for a 27-year-old album most people would avoid having to sit though? Not me a month ago, but yet here we are. Thanks Meat, to bad nothing you've done since has approached this album in sheer size and greatness (except of course those man-boobs in Fight Club).

Issue 21, March 2004

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