It's pretty sad when a fifty-something who doesn't even write his own music releases a rock album more sincere, intense and diverse than pretty much anything from the last 10 years. And with a cooler cover, too.
But that's what Meat Loaf has pulled off with Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. With a supporting cast that could make a superstar of William Hung - Brian May (Queen), John5 (David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie), Steve Vai, Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue), Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper...Ricky Martin), Jim Steinman (first two Bat records) - and pipes that sound as good as ever, Meat Loaf proves 30 years can't stop him from capturing the vibrancy and confusion of youth.
Right out of the gate Bat III hits listeners with "The Monster is Loose," perhaps the heaviest song the artist has ever recorded. The track combines eerie atmospherics with epic songwriting, nu-metal guitars and sparse piano to push the boundaries of rock music to the breaking point. The power ballad "Blind as a Bat" follows, a success despite the forehead-slapping title.
Bat III is amazingly consistent for 77 minutes of music, covering every style from a-bit-too-dramatic Broadway-influenced metal ("In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King") to over-the-top funk ("If it Ain't Broke, Break It") to crunchy, yearning love-rock ("What About Love") to piano-backed introspection ("Cry to Heaven").
The tracks range from two to eight minutes, and few overstay their welcome. Three are male-female duets featuring Marion Raven, Patti Russo and Jennifer Hudson, lending variety to the recording and continuing the trend from the first Bat record's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." The guitar solos work with the songs without going overboard.
The only problem with the record is its song selection - Meat Loaf has had the most success with songwriter Jim Steinman, so he sees fit to steal every song the composer wrote for anyone else.
We get rehashes of "Bad for Good" (from Steinman's 1981 solo album and performed on Meat Loaf's 1988 tour), "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" (recorded by Pandora's Box in 1989 and turned into a smash Celine Dion hit seven years later), "The Future Ain't What it Used to Be" (another Pandora's Box track) "If it Ain't Broke, Break It" (sung by Mike Vogel on the Wuthering Heights soundtrack) and "Seize the Night" (featured in a few musicals). The only thing that's missing is "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
Of course, with the exception of "All Coming Back" - which takes some getting used to in duet form - these are songs 99 percent of America has never heard. But none is indispensable (maybe "Broke"), and it's a bit discomfiting to know that more than a third of the record appeared elsewhere first. Releasing the album with nine tracks instead of fourteen would have lightened the load a bit, though it would also have sacrificed the notion that, wow, this CD is really crammed with good music.
In the final analysis Bat Out of Hell III is everything a Meat Loaf record should be. It's emotional, theatrical and just a little bit out there. While the material recycling is a bit annoying, most fans won't even notice unless they look it up.
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com) is an apprentice editor at The National Interest and an antiMusic contributor.