Meat Loaf

Hang Cool Teddy Bear

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Hang Cool Teddy Bear may not be an explicit sequel to Bat Out of Hell -- not in its title or in its composition, with Meat Loaf once again parting ways with Jim Steinman, the architect of the Bat songs -- but it sure has enough bombast to trick anybody into thinking it’s the fourth volume of Bat. It’s not, of course: unlike those three career-defining records, Hang Cool Teddy Bear boasts an actual narrative -- a hazy, unformed tale of a wounded soldier -- instead of merely being conceptual, a difference that should give the album shape particularly when married with Rob Cavallo’s crisp, bright production. Cavallo corrects all the errors of the heavy-handed metallic Bat Out of Hell III -- its slick, processed grind playing like an unfortunate artifact from the moussed and teased ’80 Sunset Strip -- but the album flails nearly as much as that misbegotten 2006 sequel because it lacks Steinman’s unerring ear for the ludicrous. Plenty try to ape it -- notably, Justin Hawkins, who made his bones with the parodic rock of the Darkness, American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, Bon Jovi & Desmond Child -- but none achieve anything close, either pushing fist-pumping, Springsteen arena-anthems, or rockers bloated with too much room for guitar solos, both lacking hooks. Meat Loaf also gets assistance in the studio by a true motley crew -- Steve Vai and Brian May double-team on guitar, Jack Black sings backing vocals, and House’s Hugh Laurie pounds the piano -- and frankly, he kinds of needs it, sounding every one of his 62 years as he valiantly tries to scale the artificial peaks of this pomp, trying to sing a line as stupid as “I can barely put my dick in my pants” with some semblance of dignity. Not that dignity was ever that important to Meat Loaf, but the shallow spectacle of Hang Cool Teddy Bear lacks the absurd joy of his best: you can hear everybody involved working far too hard to achieve next to nothing.

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