If you were offered a choice between a helping of warmed-over meat loaf and a few wilted stalks of celery, which would you take? Neither? Well, that seems to be the consensus of the record-buying public, as the latest releases by Meat Loaf and his trusty sidekick, Jim Steinman, aren't the hot items on the menu that their precursor, Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, was.
That these albums are hanging in at all is perhaps more an homage to the old LP's megaplatinum success than to their intrinsic worth (worthlessness?). Bat Out of Hell was indeed something new: the sound of emergent adolescent libidos revving their horny engines, a libretto written in Clearasil on the bathroom mirror and set to a thundering soundtrack that would have been appropriate to one of Jack Nicholson's vintage biker epics. Call it the revenge of the baby-boom babies or whatever. Meat Loaf was their mouthpiece: the mouth that roared.
Actually, Meat Loaf, all 300-plus pounds of him, was merely a conduit for the ministrations of his songwriter-svengali, Jim Steinman. Steinman happened along about the time that Bruce Springsteen was encouraging the wild and the innocent to spring from cages on Highway 9, and the pint-sized composer of musicales took the Boss' cue. On Bat Out of Hell, Steinman one-upped Springsteen, appropriating both his tendency toward melodrama–the New Jersey-fied bathos, the recurring night-river/fright-fever imagery, the hunger–and his countervailing notions of redemption: the promised land, escape, sexual rapture. But where Springsteen could hold his potential for overkill in check most of the time, Steinman and Meat Loaf, like a couple of jokers at a carnival who have to prove they can top everybody, came down hard with their sledgehammers and sent the bell ringing right off the pole.
During his two-year platinum sleigh ride, Meat Loaf blew out his voice while on tour and would often collapse from exertion, lying onstage like a beached whale. He found that he was physically incapable of singing the follow-up record Jim Steinman had written, so Steinman himself handled the vocal work and made Bad for Good his first solo album. He can have it.
Steinman's thin, reedy voice simply can't carry the absurd precocity of the lyrics (do you really want to know about a song called "Love and Death and an American Guitar"?). Throughout, Bad for Good is marred by Wagnerian excess, feral "rock" playing and vile choristering. Todd Rundgren should have his wrists slapped for choking the upper end of his guitar's neck in a vainglorious approximation of epiphany (surely this was one of those odd jobs he takes to pay the rent at Utopia Video). In the title track, Steinman sings: "And you think that I'll be bad for just a little while/But I know that I'll be bad for good." This is probably the most perfect self-review in the history of rock & roll.
As for Dead Ringer, the second helping of Meat Loaf is strictly noncaloric. Whatever bovine charm Meat Loaf's voice may once have had is now shot to smithereens. His vocals here are alarmingly awful, the star apparently having lost the ability to hit notes and form coherent syllables at the same time. Consequently, the words come out garbled, almost as if he were mumbling in Finnish. To soften the blow, the singer is swathed in varnished coats of backup vocals.
The printed lyrics on the inner sleeve are a mixed blessing. In "More Than You Deserve," an ugly little number about infidelity, Meat Loaf employs his favorite form of direct address, "Listen, boy." In this instance, "boy" is caught making love to his girl-friend, and the embittered cuckold stalks off in a righteous rage: "Go on have yourself a ball with my good woman."
Bad for Good and Dead Ringer are a cast-iron drag. Both LPs race along like a flash flood, their excesses sending them over the banks of listenability and out to sea. Or out to lunch, as the case may be.