Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose Label: Virgin Records
In his recent conversation with Bullz-Eye, Meat Loaf went on a bit of a rant about how it’s the sum of the many parts of Bat Out of Hell that make it a classic album; in retrospect, it’s now plainly obvious that he was leaping to his own defense before he could even be accused of anything.
What was his crime?
Your honor, the defendant, Mr. Michael Lee Aday – henceforth to be referred to within these proceedings by his stage name of Meat Loaf – is charged with the crime of releasing a sequel to his 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, which was produced not by James Richard “Jim” Steinman but, rather, one Desmond Child. Additionally, Mr. Aday released said sequel with only seven of its fourteen tracks written by Mr. Steinman. (For the court’s clarification, it should be noted that the original Bat Out of Hell as well as its 1993 sequel, Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, were entirely composed by Steinman.)
At the time of his conversation with Bullz-Eye, Mr. Loaf needn’t have been so defensive; the site hadn’t yet managed to procure an advance of the record and therefore didn’t know how it sounded in comparison to its predecessors.
Now, however, we have.
Bat III opens with its title track, “The Monster Is Loose,” a three-way co-write between Child, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, and Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. If the purpose was to immediately weed out everyone who didn’t believe a Bat album could work without Steinman at the helm, mission accomplished; as it begins, it sounds just as metallic as you’d fear a song by those songwriters would. While partial redemption occurs somewhere around the four-minute mark, when it finally begins to sound like it belongs on a Meat Loaf album rather than one by some crappy metal band, the naysayers will already be long gone.
Actually, that’s not true. They’ll just have made the instant decision to only download the Steinman songs from iTunes.
Okay, now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s talk about those Steinman songs. It’s been par for the course with the previous two Bat albums that many of Steinman’s songwriting contributions were actually just recycled from some of his previous, less-successful projects…but, in this case, that’s what all of them are. A couple of them were written for an unproduced “Batman” musical, two appeared on an album Steinman put together for the band Pandora’s Box (which featured Ellen Foley, who appeared on the original Bat album), and…well, we don’t need to detail the origins of every track. All you need to know is that it’s basically scraps from the Steinman songbook…and while it’s perhaps inevitable that the best songs tend to be Steinman-penned, it’s disappointing to discover that some of the worst are as well, though you can lay most of the blame on Desmond Child. “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher Is King” suffers from Child’s decision to go all heavy-metal on the production, and while “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It” falls victim to that as well to a certain extent, its worst musical sin comes via the cheesy-sounding horns that power the track. The cheese factor – and we’re talking full-on limburger, by the way – reaches its nadir during album-closer “Cry to Heaven,” which features flutes that sound like they’ve been borrowed from Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
Citing a similarity to a Dion song is ironic, given that “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” Meat Loaf’s duet with Marion Raven, is probably best known for having been covered by Dion in 1996. (In fact, Meat Loaf got downright pissed when Steinman gave Dion the song, as he’d already been considering Bat III even back then and wanted the song for it.) That this should be one of the best tracks on the record is somewhat surprising, given its history, but nonetheless, it delivers everything you want in an overblown duet, and it works perfectly on every level. It’s followed by “Bad for Good,” which is easily the best song on the album; Brian May offers up some fantastic guitar work to send it over the top and into the stratosphere. Both “Seize the Night” and “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” are both full of that classic Steinman theatricality as well, which might explain why each has already been used in a musical at some point in their history.
As far as the other tracks on the disc, to use the words “faux Steinman” when describing them might be unfair, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. Old-school rock fans will no doubt begin twitching at the sight of Diane Warren’s name in the credits, but the sweeping feel of the song works relatively well. The best of the non-Steinman songs is “Blind as a Bat,” which is easily as epic as anything from the previous two Bat albums; written by Child and James Michael, it’s the only track by outside writers that one can comfortably say lives up to the Bat Out of Hell name.
In closing, it should be noted that, as a result of a now-settled lawsuit over ownership of the whole Bat concept, Jim Steinman is legally prohibited from commenting about The Monster Is Loose album in any way that is perceived to be derogatory. (As of yet, there’s been no report of him having been admitted to the hospital with tongue injuries from having to bite it so much.) If he could speak to the matter, however, we’d like to think he’d say something like this:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m enough of a professional to concede that there are some moments on The Monster Is Loose that work, and work well. But I wrote Bat Out of Hell, I produced Bat Out of Hell, Bat Out of Hell is a friend of mine…and, my friends, this is no Bat Out of Hell.”
Your honor, the defense rests.