Marvin Lee Aday, known to the world more commonly as Meat Loaf, is heavy metal and I will accept no arguments otherwise. The Dallas-born singer has been an active performer since the early ‘70s, and though his influence on the metal genre may not seem apparent at first, there are quite a few points to made for the case. First, take a look at the album art to Judas Priest’s 1990 album Painkiller. See that excitable, animated rock and roll figure gliding through air on a motorbike? Now reference Meat Loaf’s 1977 sophomore LP and 5th best-selling album of all time, Bat Out Of Hell (although his 1971 debut Stoney & Meatloaf has essentially been forgotten in the ethers of rock and roll history). Hardly a coincidence, so far as I’m concerned. Second, Meat Loaf’s daughter, Pearl Aday, is married to Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. She released her debut solo album, Little Immaculate White Fox, in 2010 on Megaforce Records. The album was a stellar hard rock effort, proving that that the musical apple did not fall far from the tree in the Aday family lineage. Third, comedic metal duo Tenacious D enlisted Meat Loaf to play an angry Christian father in their 2006 film, The Pick Of Destiny. The same song featured fallen metal icon Ronnie James Dio, who was certainly in the same lane as Meat Loaf as far as incredible rock singers go.
Meat Loaf’s classic material with songwriter Jim Steinman remains some of the most innovative and important music in its field, blending elements of hard rock, heavy metal, symphony, Broadway, and pop. Braver Than We Are brings the two music legends together for the first time since 1993’s Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell (although Meat Loaf did take some of Steinman’s solo songs from the 1981 album Bad For Good for the third Bat Out Hell installment, The Monster Is Loose, in 2006). Not only is Meat Loaf reuniting with Steinman, but vocalists Karla DeVito and Ellen Foley who appeared during the original Bat Out Of Hell album session and tour nearly 40 years ago. The two appear on Braver’s longest cut, ‘Going All The Way Is Just The Start (A Song In 6 Movements).’ At eleven and a half minutes, it calls back to the Bat Out Of Hell II hit ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ [the video of which inspired this song’s title]. DeVito and Foley sing with boldness and emotion similarly to Lorraine Crosby on the 1993 track, and just as sharp as their respective appearances on ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light.’ Moments like these on the album are the most exciting, due to the undeniable presence of Steinman’s composition which has been missing from Meat Loaf’s last batch of albums.
Unfortunately (albeit understandably), the voice that Meat Loaf had on his studio output as of late does not make nearly as strong of an appearance on this album. Despite the less-than-stellar songwriting on albums like 2010’s Hang Cool Teddy Bear and 2011’s Hell In A Handbasket, Meat Loaf’s singing abilities still seemed intact for the most part. Live performances of the past few years may dictate otherwise, but at least on record he seemed confident and present. The one positive thing I can say about his voice is that there are very few moments on the album where it seems like Meat Loaf is trying to pretend the higher, more aggressive parts are still available to him. Mostly, he sings in his middle and lower registers. On the aforementioned ‘Going All The Way…,’ Meat Loaf’s stark, withdrawn vocals juxtapose his female counterparts perfectly throughout the duration of the song. Album opener ‘Who Needs The Young’ was written by Steinman at 19, and finds Meat Loaf using his reserved vocals to his advantage. The middle portion of the track finds the character Meat Loaf is playing observing their weakened qualities, from arms, to legs, to sex. At one point, stating directly, “My voice just isn’t what it was, is there anyone left who can sing? Silence him!” This song and ‘Godz’ find Steinman at his oddest and most leftfield with his songwriting, incorporating elements and influence of the stranger ends of Broadway like Sweeney Todd or The Phantom Of The Opera. Though they are not the most accessible moments on the album, they impressively showcase Steinman’s versatility as a composer and Meat Loaf’s adaptability as a singer.
Other than DeVito and Foley, Meat Loaf and Steinman brought on Stacy Michelle and Cian Coey to lend their voices to the album. Michelle appears on two tracks back to back, ‘Speaking In Tongues’ and ‘Loving You’s A Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It).’ The prior is a piano-led ballad with Meat Loaf and Michelle playing the parts of two lovers, utilizing the term ‘Speaking In Tongues’ as a metaphor for lovemaking. It’s a bit gauche lyrically, but musically reminds me of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘For Crying Out Loud’ from Bat Out Of Hell. ‘Loving You…’ was originally written and produced by Steinman for Bonnie Tyler and Todd Rundgren in 1986, and Meat Loaf and Michelle’s voices work like a charm on this version, much moreso than its predecessor and just as well as ‘Going All The Way….’ Cian Coey appears on ‘Skull Of Your Country’ which is a very bombastic song that calls back to Tyler once again, this time using lyrics and melodies from 1983’s ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart.’ I really love the composition and guitar work on this track; it’s classic Meat Loaf and Steinman but produced in a way that still sounds fresh and stimulating.
In addition to the Tyler renditions, Braver… features Meat Loaf taking on ‘More,’ originally by English goth rock and post-punk band The Sisters Of Mercy. Steinman produced a number of songs for the band, and the reworking here is surprisingly sharp considering the difference in musical styles. Though Meat Loaf doesn’t have as brooding of a voice as Sisters vocalist Andrew Eldritch, his lower register is once again used in such a way that compliments the song, and the heavy guitars work very will with the instrumental as a whole.
‘Souvenirs’ and the short, interlude-like ‘Only When I Feel’ have Meat Loaf at his most emotional on the album. The brass sections on ‘Souvenirs’ are immaculately performed, however the song stays at roughly the same pace throughout the entirety, making it hard to justify its eight-minute runtime. ‘Only When I Feel’ serves as sort of a calm before the storm, leading up to the three heaviest and most explosive songs on the album. It’s not terribly explorative, but it gets the job done and fits in fine with the flow of the album. ‘Train Of Love’ caps off the album, and in addition to ‘Only When I Feel,’ it’s the seldom time that Meat Loaf sounds like his voice is really straining. This isn’t mostly due to the fast-paced, upbeat nature of the song. His lower and more held back projection would not have mixed well the electronics and tight drumming. Because of its composition, it also stands out a bit in the tracklisting, but it once again showcases Steinman challenging himself as a songwriter.
Overall, Braver Than We Are is an exciting record to exist, and mostly enjoyable to listen to. The only thing holding it down from being absolutely stellar is, and I say this with heavy heart, Meat Loaf’s singing. What I can say is that it mainly appears an issue because of the way they’re mixed from song to song. Some odd and wavering processing seems like the engineer was trying to mask his weakened voice, when in reality, Meat Loaf did certainly the best he could with it. Despite that, Steinman’s validity as a songwriter remains unmatched, and makes the record all that much stronger. The first three albums that Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman did together will not be forgotten, and I will still be returning to Braver Than We Are many times throughout the rest of the year.
Written by L. Mounts