Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose
Universal / Mercury
eat Loaf is the logical end-point of rock. Sure Never Mind the Bollocks, Marquee Moon, and Low came out in ’77 but good as each of them are, they pushed the whole idea sideways: it was Bat Out of Hell that inflated, expanded, and pushed rock ‘n’ roll to the limit. When it all comes together as it did in ’77 and on ’93’s masterful sequel, the whole edifice of late twentieth century popular music comes crumbling down. The words camp and cheesy get bandied about because the lies that keep mortals tied down are severed; it’s the realization that for all the counter-cultural pretensions, a rock song is only a skip away from a show tune.
Now would seem an opportune moment for the third instalment of the trilogy: a number of young bands, My Chemical Romance, Trivium, The Killers, in their separate searches for big music have, perhaps unintentionally, come close to the anthemic mania of prime ’Loaf.
The first two Bats were, at heart, collaborative efforts. Both have covers boasting “Songs by Jim Steinman”; unfortunately only seven of Bat Out of Hell III’s fourteen are written by Steinman. Four of these have been performed by other artists and two are salvaged from an aborted Batman musical. For all their bombast and grandeur the previous instalments had a sense of purpose; this is just a collection of songs, some of which are great, some less so.
The record opens with some admirably daft “scary” noises before crashing in with nu-metal style compressed guitar. For a moment it seems hopeless, but then that voice comes in and it works—instead of shying away from the grandest gestures, the ridiculousness is embraced. The song was co-written with Nikki Sixx and John 5 of Marilyn Manson, it’s called “The Monster Is Loose,” and it sounds like the intro music they’d use if Meat Loaf ever took up pro wrestling.
It’s followed by two mid-tempo ballads: the first an underwhelming composition by producer Desmond Child, the second Steinman’s own “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” previously a hit for Celine Dion. The song, here, is transformed into a duet with 22 year-old Norwegian Marion Raven. It’s nicely grandiose and oddly affecting, a worthy successor to “I Would Do Anything for Love.” The best moment comes four-and-a-half minutes when they bellow “Baby, baby, baaaaaaaaby” in a manner that will tickle anyone who remembers UK comics Vic and Bob’s quiz show Shooting Stars.
The Steinman compositions somewhat inevitably turn out to be the best things here, but there’s still a lot to enjoy. “Bad For Good” is a sky-scraping highlight; Child’s occasionally flaccid production kicks into top gear, meshing together the contribution from Brian May and Todd Rundgren. It’s an epic in overstatement: all duelling guitars, clamorous backing vocals, and a crazed redemptive chorus that boasts, “I wasn’t built for comfort, I was built for speed,” a curious claim indeed for someone of Loaf’s girth.
For all the guest stars here, it would be mind blowing to see Loaf collaborate with his true spiritual heir: Andrew WK. But like the work of Mr. Wilkes-Krier, the album’s frenetic barrage sporadically grows wearying. As a whole the album lacks some of the light and shade of previous outings and, most importantly, it lacks the humour, there’s nothing here that even attempts the straight-faced silliness of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” or “Life Is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back.” Yet in “Alive” and “If It Ain’t Broke,” Meat Loaf has created giddy fist-pumping anthems that rank with anything he has ever done and "In The Land of the Pig, The Butcher Is King" is, in its own (Broad)way, rather foreboding. As a Bat Out of Hell record it’s a disappointment, but as a collection of songs that push the limits of time, space, and (occasionally) sanity it makes today’s seekers of the big music look very small.