The Good: Good - if cheesy - lyrics, operatic quality
The Bad: Repetitive sound, voice
The Basics: Operatic style is impressive, but ultimately the lyrical strength cannot save this erratically-sung, musically middle-of-the-road album.
Let it be known right off the bat, I've never heard Bat Out Of Hell One. Back in 1993, I fell in love with the operatic "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" (I can admit it!) and went on to enjoy the album Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meat Loaf thoroughly. Somewhere along the line, the album got lost and now I only pull it out when I'm in the mood for opera (about once a year) or when I'm feeling campy.
So, what's the story on this album? It's easy to look at it cynically and call it campy, but . . . Back Into Hell expresses an impressive array of emotions, from all of those warm, loving feelings that sound cheesy when you're not in love ("I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)"), to the feelings of utter despair ("Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are") to loss (appropriately enough entitled "Lost Boys and Golden Girls"). Interestingly enough, the album's thematic diversity is coupled with a remarkable cohesiveness over the whole album.
The talent behind this album is not the singer. In fact, Meat Loaf is barely competent in some of the songs. Meat Loaf has a frequently gravely voice, but he has surprising range. Meat Loaf goes from low and growling on songs to singing almost falsetto on others. He is also able to jump within songs from one register to another. While he generally is able to hold notes for a long time and he does sing clearly, more often than not, he sticks in the tenor range and does not challenge himself on all tracks. Moreover, on some of his attempts to soar, he strains too hard and it sounds like he is more in pain than actually singing.
The credit for the success of the album ought to go to Jim Steinman, who wrote and produced each song. Indeed, how many other producer's names appear on the front of the album? Jim Steinman has quite a talent for lyrics, even if they do seem canned now, but regardless of that, he is tapping into a series of layered emotions deeper than your average singer songwriter. In fact, his song "Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are" is far more compelling than the Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm."
So, where does the album go wrong? Despite using some less-traditional (for a pop-rock album) instruments like violins, the album falls in that the sound of it is similarly limited. That is, the wide diversity of themes, while cohesively presented in an operatic form, seems somehow to stagnate in the music that accompanies it.
While the album gets points for easily being the best rock opera yet (or, at least the best one that has no correlation to a stage performance), it somehow does not endure and I've never updated it from tape to c.d. It's a close call, but my final analysis is that it is not quite worth recommending.
Best song is "Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are" and the weak link is easily "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through."
For other, atypical albums, please check out my reviews of:
Linkin Park - Minutes To Midnight
Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
They Might Be Giants - Then: The Early Years
For other music reviews, please check out my index page.
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.