Meatloaf earned his somewhat eccentric name as a performer in the Rocky Horror Show, the theatrical torture, although he had previously spent several years as a rock singer in Detroit, even recording a single or two for Motown. Bat Out of Hell reflects such diversity, but can't resolve it. Meat Loaf has an outstanding voice, but his phrasing is way too stage-struck to make the album's pretensions to comic-book street life real. He needs a little less West Side Story and a little more Bruce Springsteen.
Jim Steinman, who wrote and arranged the entire album, needs a lot less of both. Some of the songs here, particularly "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," are swell, but they are entirely mannered and derivative. Steinman is wordy, and his attempts to recapture adolescence are only remembrances; he can't bring out the transcendently personal elements that make a song like "Night Moves," an obvious influence here. The arrangements aren't bad, although they play into the hammiest of Meat Loaf's postures, and the playing is excellent, led by pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg of Springsteen's E Street Band and producer Todd Rundgren's guitars. But the principals have some growing to do. (RS 254)
(Posted: Dec 15, 1977)
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BAT OUT OF HELL is known to be the enormously successful second album of singer Meat Loaf, released in 1977. The music on this album was frequently called “Wagnerian” because of its flamboyant, operatic style. When Jim Steinman, the composer of the original seven pieces on BAT OUT OF HELL, and Meat Loaf started proposing it to music companies, they’d had encountered a lot of difficulties finding someone willing to produce it. But when guitarist Todd Rundgren heard it, he immediately decided he wanted to produce the album. They still needed a label and it took them some more time before they finally settled with Cleveland International Records. The album was not an instant hit: it was more of a growing one. However, BAT OUT OF HELL still sells about 200,000 copies a year, and has sold an estimated 40 million copies worldwide, 16 million in the U.S. alone, over 1.5 million albums in Australia (even re-entered charts on November 2006, at number 41 on the ARIAs), becoming one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It remained 474 weeks on the U.K. charts, a success only surpassed by the 478 weeks of Fleetwood Mac's RUMORS. In 2003, the album was ranked number 343 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is also one of only two albums that have never exited the top 200 in the U.K. charts. This makes it the longest stay in any chart in the world. Meat Loaf clearly divulges the influence of Wagner throughout the work, especially in the piece which gives the title to the album. In fact, this song starts with operatic echoes that recall the overture to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. There follows a jovial theme given by the guitars over the effervescent pizzicato organ, and soon a solemn, cumbersome motif is played by the solo guitars. These various elements alternate before the music intensifies, and eventually explodes in heated outbursts, with very active percussion. There is much dark humour and grotesquerie in this extraordinary song, and much in the ensuing pieces. Here, more than anywhere else, the main theme sounds like a variant of its comic strip-like counterpart of an opera by Wagner. When the piano enters the mood, it turns to pure rollicking slapstick; thus, the music turns passionate and then begins to grow more boisterous by the measure. Again the guitar riffs play a large role in the utterly shattering climactic passages that follow. Other songs such as YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH (HOT SUMMER NIGHT), ALL REVVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO, and the rock’n’roll mind-bender PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT feature a haunting, obsessive theme, played by the percussion and later taken up by the guitars. The mood is murky and contemplative throughout. In the ballads (HEAVEN CAN WAIT, TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD, and FOR CRYING OUT LOUD) things brighten a bit with a graceful, somewhat wistful theme, but the feeling of loneliness pervades the music, even during the slightly comical passages that accompany these pieces. Then, again, the music darkens in the peripheral sections, and though the central theme always returns, it does not dispel the gloominess that has crept in. BAT OUT OF HELL is both adventurous and original. Its music is well crafted and charming: truly, it features several attractive themes and striking orchestration. The cheesiness of Meat Loaf’s music – if it really exists – is intentional, and it augments the romantic motifs conceived by Jim Steinman, the composer of the seven songs. Alan Parsons Project and their E. A. Poe-inspired music (see their 1976 album TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION) come to mind here, and those listeners seeking a work infused with a rich post-Romantic soul will undoubtedly find this to their liking. BAT OUT OF HELL has a liturgical feel to it, which is probably responsible for its cult status, it is quite catchy, and the whole album radiates a sense of delight and achievement. DANIEL DELEANU
Mar 2, 2007 09:56:24
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