Meat Loaf

Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose

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Truth be told, once Meat Loaf had a blockbuster with Bat Out of Hell in 1977, he never really left the bombastic sound of that Todd Rundgren-produced, Jim Steinman-written classic behind. He went through a long stretch where he didn't have any hits -- it's popularly known as the '80s -- but he kept reworking the album, never quite getting it right until he reteamed with Steinman for 1993's Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, which became a surprise international hit, re-establishing Meat Loaf as a major star. After that record, he never went away, continuing to record, tour, and act, but nothing quite matched the success of either Bat Out of Hell, so it made perfect sense for Meat to go back to the Bat well a third time in the mid-2000s -- over 12 years since the second Bat and nearly 30 years on from the first. But there was a hitch in his well-laid plan: Steinman didn't want to participate. This was a problem, because the Bat albums were as much Steinman's as they were Meat Loaf's -- and this point was never hidden, either, as Steinman's name was prominent on the cover of both Bats. Undaunted, Meat Loaf went ahead with the project, hiring Desmond Child as producer and picking several older Steinman songs to form the heart of Bat Out of Hell III, which now bore the subtitle of The Monster Is Loose. As the album's fall 2006 release date approached, Steinman took Meat Loaf to court over the record -- after all, not only had he written the Bat Out of Hell albums, but he owned the copyright to the phrase, so Meat needed permission in order to release the record. Permission was eventually granted in an out-of-court settlement, paving the way for the October 2006 release of Bat Out of Hell III, a record that had many Steinman songs but in no way features his involvement in the recording or production of the album. And, boy, is his absence ever felt! His presence looms large over the record -- quite obviously on the songs he wrote, but the very aesthetic of the album is copied wholesale from his blueprints -- yet it's the ways that Bat III is different, both big and small, that points out who is missing at this party.

For one, this Bat is quite obviously a patchwork, pieced together from things borrowed and re-created, never quite gelling the way either of the previous Bats did. And if there's one thing that theatrical rock like this needs, it's a narrative through-line or at least a concrete goal. Child and Meat Loaf do have a goal, but it's merely to re-create the glory days; they're not quite so picky on how they get there. So, Child brings in Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx and Marilyn Manson's guitarist John 5 to pen the opening "The Monster Is Loose," and the results are disarming, a grindingly metallic riff-rocker that sits very uncomfortably next to Steinman's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," written with Meat in mind (at least according to the singer) but taken to the charts by Celine Dion. Such jarring shifts in tone are common throughout The Monster Is Loose, not just as it moves from song to song, but within the tunes themselves, as Child's compositions chase after the grandeur of Steinman's work yet bear all the marks of a professional who is playing a game without bothering to learn the rules. The same is true for the very sound of Bat III. Although original Bat producer Todd Rundgren adds some necessary pomp with his vocal arrangements, the album is at once too heavy and too clinical, lacking the gaudy, gonzo soul that made Bat Out of Hell irresistible camp. It's a brightly lit mess, but there is a redeeming factor here and that's Meat Loaf, who is singing his heart out as he valiantly tries to make this Bat a worthy successor to the originals.

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