Bat Out Of Hell

Meat Loaf

Cleveland / Epic Records, 1977

http://meatloaf.net

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/1998

I know that the '70s were a very bizarre time in the world of popular music, but if anyone's success startled us, it was that of Meat Loaf.

Who would have thought that a plump singer with a wildman stage appearance and a voice that could rattle the clouds would release an album that still is a big seller 21 years after its release? Mr. Loaf (as the prestigious New York Times referred to him) had previously released a solo album that flopped, and had won critical acclaim as an actor in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and as a guest vocalist on Ted Nugent's Free-For-All.

But when Bat Out Of Hell came out in 1977, the music world was turned on its ear. An album that captured the angst of teenage America at that time, it epitomized youth, alienation, sex and relationships in a way that still entrances people. And while Meat Loaf's penchant for the theatrical pushes the limits too far at times, there are plenty of examples to prove that his success was no fluke.

Bat Out Of Hell produced two major stars -- one being Meat Loaf, the other being lyricist Jim Steinman (who would eventually strike out on his own, sue Meat Loaf, then resume his partnership with Loaf on this album's sequel). Steinman, in a sense, could also take some of the blame for the overdose of theatrics -- though it must be admitted that the bulk of the music on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bat Out Of Hell was originally written for a musical by Steinman. (Trivia question: Name that musical.)

Much of what I know about this album was gathered from other sites, and I'm not sure I'm entirely correct about some of it. (Gimme a break -- in 1977, I was grooving to "Muhammed Ali -- Black Superman". My tastes weren't quite refined.) But when he agreed to produce this album, Todd Rundgren brought some friends of his with him -- a little side project of his known as Utopia. Also joining in the fracas was Ellen Foley, who would later gain fame as a cast member on TV's Night Court. (One side note: my decision to review this album was not part of a recent Todd Rundgren craze. Fact is, this was supposed to be reviewed nine months ago.)

Now then -- when Loaf turns his attention to the ballad, his power is simply awesome. "Heaven Can Wait" is a beautiful, touching song that shows off the power of his voice better than any balls-out screamer could. Steinman's lyrics also capture the moment perfectly. Likewise, the album's closer "For Crying Out Loud" screams in its more silent moments -- ka-pow.

Even when Loaf cuts loose and whips a little rock 'n' roll into the mix, he succeeds more often than not. Both "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" and "All Revved Up With No Place To Go" are prime examples of how well Loaf could perform straight rock. The title track, however, leaves something to be desired.

That brings us to the album's centerpiece -- imagine, a cock-rock song with a moral! -- "Paradise By The Dashboard Light." Opening with our hero looking back to the early, innocent days of his relationship with his inamorata, he can feel the urges of impending adulthood... aw, screw it, he's gettin' horny, and wants to lose his virginity. But as he makes his move on his lover (all done with panting, moaning and a play-by-play from Phil Rizzuto -- was that really necessary?), she throws a wrench into the works. If she's going to put out, she wants a commitment from her man -- who, shall we say, isn't quite sure if this is what he wants to do. In the end, he makes that commitment -- and though he's determined to honor it, he is praying for it to end.

I have mixed feelings about this song. Having first been exposed to it by a female friend in college who worshipped this album, I can't say I liked it much -- and to this day, "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" is an example of how overtheatrical Loaf and his band could be. If I want to watch a play, I'll go see Cats.

Still, Bat Out Of Hell charms even the most cynical critic in the end, and shows why it made Loaf a star. It might have taken him 16 years to release a sequel, but to the diehard fans, there's no topping the original. Take the dramatics with a grain of salt, but do check this album out.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Cleveland / Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.