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Meat Loaf: Bat out of Hell

Eagle Vision // Unrated // October 3, 2006
List Price: $11.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted November 17, 2006 | E-mail the Author
An wonderfully unique album, Bat Out Of Hell is musical drama rock presented at perhaps its best. Grand and outlandish in its dramatic aural theatrics, it incorporates a number of diverse elements- rock, opera, goth and Broadway, when it finally came on the scene after sitting in the can for a year, it likely made some record companies more than a little rueful that they had not jumped on the opportunity to release it when being relentlessly shopped around the industry by its creators. The main players in the rock opera are the reason it made for such a unique, stand out recording in its day; Meat Loaf, a young actor-singer who manages to dig to the emotional roots of each composition and playing them to up to the hilt; composer Jim Steinman, a man who manages to compose songs that can be likened to epic theater, cinema for the ears; and eventual producer Todd Rundgren, an artist who had been a part of several concept albums of his own and making him someone able to recognize the potential of the material and the talent of it's creators.

Meat Loaf makes the statement at the opening of this documentary that people either love Bat Out Of Hell with dogged passion, or despise it; if that is actually the case then there are alot in the legions of the former. Finally being given a release in 1977 during the era of disco, it has sold 35 million copies worldwide, making it one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Though it peaked at #9 and spent only two weeks in the top ten back in 1981, it has clocked up 474 weeks on the UK chart, surpassed only by Fleetwood Mac's Rumors release. Bat Out Of Hell is one of only two albums that never exited the Top 200 in the UK and has had the the longest stay of in any music chart in the world.

This reviewer first bought the release simply on the basis of its outlandish, Frazetta-style cover about a week after it hit the stores. Nothing sounded quite like it at the time, and giving the stronger songs a listen today still brings a smile. In a period where audiences were starting to give longer, less radio friendly compositions do alot of listening to album-oriented stations, the mini-epic "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" blazed its own lofty trail, telling the saga of two teenagers a hair's breadth from doing the wild thing for their very first time and the West Side Story struggle that ensued. More radio accessible tracks from the album took their share of airplay in the day as well, such as the powerful yet tender anthem to love "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" ; complete with a Gothic, spoken word teaser at it's beginning, Meat Loaf truly shines on this vocal and manages to give one hope for the L word even today; and the woe stricken lament to settling for less in a relationship "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad".

This documentary relates the story behind making the album, and all the troubles that effort entailed. Steinman and Meat Loaf first met when Loaf auditioned for a role in a Steinman musical; seeing immediately that Meat's voice was one that projected his wonderful, eclectic songwriting in a way no one else had, the two began work on making a record, something neither had done before. In hopes of finding a record deal, the audition process turned out to be a hard scrabbled road in itself; they relate here the fact that all auditioning was done live rather than by sending out demos, as they simply couldn't produce the sound they wanted to showcase to the companies in any other way. No one "got it" until Todd Rundgren, who reportedly listened to 15 seconds of an intro and agreed to take on the project. To their surprise, this didn't produce a happy ending, either; once the album was finished, Rundgren's parent company, ABC Records, nixed its release. Thus another journey out into the record industry ensued before finally finding a willing distributor in Epic Records a year later.

Happily, this is more than a few of the artists sitting around a mixing board talking pure sonics to the masses. Featuring Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman (who looks oddly like a hipper brother to actor comedian Jon Lovitz, only with long white hair these days!), Todd Rundgren, and backup singers Ellen Foley and Karla De Vito- instrumental Meat Loaf "co-stars" without whom this project would never have sounded so strong; indeed, I don't think I can express that opinion strongly enough. While the massive-in-girth Meat Loaf's theatrical training and soaring vocals are indeed the backbone of this recording, it is truly a joint effort and happily is showcased in that manner here. Without Steinman, a composer with an eye towards stage epic and majestic in his work, there would be no album, plain and simple. Listening to him play in the present put me in mind of a seventies Elton John on more than one occasion. Being fortunate enough to score musical genius Todd Rundgren to helm the production of the recording was a major coup, blind luck though it may have been. From what I have read in regards to the Loaf/Steinman partnership post Bat Out Of Hell their relationship has been a rocky one; happily, that doesn't seem to be in evidence here.

What makes this one hour documentary stand out, of course, is the music itself, and there is plenty of it interspersed in the presentation throughout. Not only are the songs discussed and indeed celebrated one by one, you get to see them in different renditions- naked and sweetened before the ears at the mixing board, snippets of their music video incarnations, and lastly being performed live on stage with period footage of a young Meat Loaf with the visually and sonically beautiful Karla De Vito to sing the duets as well as back him. All who participate here seem happy, even excited to give their individual takes on many things associated with the release, and impel the viewer to appreciate what a fine effort it was as a cohesive whole. I've watched other 'making of' album docs in the recent past and have found them to be something of a mixed bag, occasionally of interest, at times a bit too dry or technical, in some aspects boring. This was a refreshing change to that hodge podge, and I can see me wanting to check it out again in the near future. In my opinion any release such as this that lures the viewer into either buying the release itself or pulling it out for a renewed audition has done its job with flying colors.

What transpired after this landmark album is bittersweet, and I recall those events firsthand. Meat Loaf losing his voice, dealing with drug problems, Jim Steinman writing the followup album to Bat Out Of Hell and winding up using the material as a solo release of his own, likely not wishing to wait any longer on Meat Loaf's ability to perform. Animosities between the two, crummy albums, a duet with Cher, a good comeback down the road with Bat Out Of Hell II, some acting stints, and the recent release of BOTH III. It may be that all of this has taken a bit of lustre away from the Bat Out Of Hell saga, and that's a shame, because the album holds up remarkably well today.


Aspect ratio for this release is 4:3 fullscreen and looks pretty good on the whole, with decently rendered colors and a sufficient degree of sharpness.


The lone audio track available here is Dolby Digital Stereo and is a surprisingly fine one, giving the music a good degree of depth and dynamics. The voice dominant portions of the documentary are clear and easy to understand.


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Final Thoughts-

A joyous celebration of an album eccentric, electric and probably not given its due in both quality and importance in the annals of rock history, Meat Loaf- Bat Out Of Hell is surprisingly fun to watch; in fact, I'd have been happy to see it go a bit longer than it's hour format. Highly recommended.
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