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Year Of Release: 1977
Well. Before you read this review, you may as well roll over to Amazon.com and see how many people have reviewed that album. Lost count? Sure, because this is, after all, one of the Top 10 bestselling albums of all time. Now let's see how many people give this album a five-star rating. Lost count? Definitely, because these are the people that claim the record to be one of the most grandiose listening experiences ever. Now let's see how many people give this album a one-star rating. Lost count? Naturally, because endless amounts of people claim the record to be a huge offensive put-on symbolizing all that was wrong with the Seventies. Now let's see how many people give this album a two-, three-, or four-star rating... you guessed the answer.Not that people on Amazon.com really tend to give out ratings other than "five" or "one" - but Bat Out Of Hell polarizes audiences more than just about any kind of rock album I've ever heard, at least, if we're speaking about 'normal' albums, not risky avantgarde business like THRaKaTTaK or Metal Machine Music. And even I feel torn in between: usually I tend to straddle the fence in such cases, but whenever I listen to Bat, it's more like an endless circulation of the waves: one moment it seems like a total gas, the other moment it's cheesy beyond belief, one moment it's saved by subtle humour, the next moment it's undermined by some pedestrian banality, etc., etc. A truly mysterious album. But perhaps you haven't heard of its existence? Let me introduce you, then: Bat Out Of Hell is Meat Loaf's proper solo debut, a huge, grandiose 'rock musical' written in its entirety by Jim Steinman and sung, almost in its entirety, by Meat Loaf. The overall theme of the musical is more or less clear - teenage dreams, angst and sexual experience - but the overall plot is hardly existent, so it's actually preferrable to view this stuff as a set of "related" songs rather than a sequence of events, which it is probably not. The album had been recorded with a cast of thousands, boasting huge Phil Spector-like production, and is more "atmosphere-oriented" than "song-oriented", but doesn't lack hooks. And it sold like hotcakes. To a certain extent, what explains the album's success is the overwhelming potload of influences that can be seen here. The primary influence is Andrew Lloyd Webber, of course, and the concept of a 'rock opera' as such - a real rock opera. But the exact sound achieved here, with all of its thunderous might, owes far more to Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band - and not coincindentally, several members of that band, including pianist Roy Bittan, do play on the album. The album's concept and 'plot' elements owe a lot to Quadrophenia, what with all the teenage angst and biker thematics; but Meat Loaf's pompous delivery is far closer to Freddie Mercury and other glam icons than to Roger Daltrey. Throw in some generic vaudeville, some heavy metal guitar solos, some retro boogie... and to top it all, the album was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren in person! Now how could this record not be selling like hotcakes? Ah well. All odds taken, I must say that I kinda like this album, and at least I do not, not at all, actively dislike it like so many people. To enjoy Bat Out Of Hell as it is supposed to be enjoyed, one should do the following: (a) get rid of the nasty bias against any kind of Broadway musical stuff and (b) understand that the record is, in fact, very much tongue-in-cheek and needn't be considered all that serious. I would actually put it in the same bin where I put stuff like 10cc's 'Une Nuit A Paris': vaudeville-style pop with an ironic message, even if the irony in Meat Loaf's delivery is far less evident than in the case of 10cc. Oh, and one thing you can't deny - Marvin Lee Aday's voice on most of these songs is wonderful, a truly powerful, emotional and superbly professional delivery that often comes to the rescue of even the weakest numbers. Well, the guy hasn't been called 'the Pavarotti of rock' for nothing. As for the actual songs: I can't accuse Jim Steinman of being a perfect composer or lyricist, but most of these numbers range from decent to very good anyway, as long as one keeps in mind that we're talking Broadway/hard rock hybrids here. In this respect, the nine-minute title track really kicks, and with its tale of the rise and fall of a reckless biker, really creates a powerful image that's hard to deny - a kind of an 'upgrade' on 'Born To Be Wild', but far more professional and complex. The other lengthy well-known epic, 'Paradise By The Dashboard Light', is bouncy, well-written, and fun - Meat Loaf duets with Ellen Foley on that one, acting a scene between a boy and a girl and their, ahem, unhappy sexual relations. And the minor numbers, like 'All Revved Up And No Place To Go' and 'You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth', with their light humor touches and catchy choruses, do kick some moderate ass. I must say, though, that the overemoted spoken dialogue at the beginning of 'You Took...' really threw me back for the first couple of times - but then you finally get around to realize that if a certain dialogue begins with somebody ecstatically whispering 'on a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?', it just can't be meant to be taken seriously. It's parodic, of course. And, by the way, since we'd already started mentioning Springsteen, my guess is that a lot of those bombastic, pseudo-romantic 'epics' are viciously ridiculing the Boss' Born To Run vibe, with its storytelling fetish and all. Thumbs up! Thumbs up! The ballads on here aren't that interesting - in the true tradition of mediocre vaudeville, they don't have a memorable melody, supposed to carry on through vibe and voice alone. Fortunately, like I said, the voice is THE voice, and therefore, even if I can't memorize a single of those ballads and even suppose that at least one of them sounds a lot like bad Phil Collins, I'm still able to enjoy 'Heaven Can Wait' and 'For Crying Out Loud' as good as anybody. Indeed, it's easier to suck in the Bat experience as an experience - these songs shouldn't really be drawn apart, they can only function as one single whole unity. In that respect, I think I'd rather join the "five-star" camp of those who uphold the album's being worthy, but with one serious reservation: I'm not wild-eyed about the album as most Meat Loaf fanatics. I take it for what it is: an excellently performed, professional, campy take on the "teenage epic" genre that can be enjoyed but doesn't deserve tear-shedding... isn't actually destined for tear-shedding, to be correct. Unfortunately, it's this general starry-eyed attitude that makes normal, intelligent people shun away from interesting albums like these and eventually assigns them to the "guilty pleasures" category. Alas! The same fate befell ABBA, T. Rex and God knows how many other excellent bands (not to mention AC/DC!). Come on now, people, don't be so dang serious.
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