As a Meat Loaf fan for over twenty five years a new album is always happily accepted and casting a critical eye is always hard when you’re listening to something by an artist you have followed and listened to for so long.
Being one of the fans who, three rows from the front of the Newcastle Arena, saw Meat declare that he would probably never sing again, a new album being produced within two years was something akin to expecting a miracle. When news of a new album began to circulate in 2009 and a release being slated for Spring 2010 I will admit to taking it with a pinch of salt.
Only when Meat entered the YouTube and twitter age with regular flip video logs of the ongoing progress of the album and its subsequent promotion did it become a reality.
So now, sitting with a copy of the CD ready to play, there is something of a trepidation about pressing the button. Can a 62 year old still cut it as a larger than life, bellowing rock god, or should he have hung up his red handkerchief after the ill-fated, so-so Bat out of Hell 3?
From the first minute of the album opener, Peace on Earth, all sense of fear that the man may have lost his vocal power fade away into obscurity and that’s before he sings a note. When the song kicks in, a fast paced Green Day-esque rocker (no surprise considering the album is produced by American Idiot’s Rob Cavello) it instantly sounds like something you’re familiar with, but for Meat it is a new direction to everything he’s ever done before.
The album is a concept album based on a short story about a dying soldier. Meat has woven a tapestry of scenes which flash before the soldier’s eyes, each song standing as a flash forward from the soldier’s life if he didn’t die.
Some are good, some are not so good, but all are delivered in the same bombastic rock, bellowing vocal performance that has always been a staple of Meat Loaf albums since Bat Out of Hell, but this is not Steinman epic lyrics, or indeed the old Meat Loaf formula that can be found in Anything For Love, I’d Lie For You and That’s The Truth, or Couldn’t Have Said It Better.
This is Meat Loaf for the new century, modern guitar riffs, unpredictable drum beats but always with the drama and power that defines Meat and stands him alone against all of his peers.
Meat Loaf albums without contribution from the incomparable Jim Steinman have occasionally fallen flat for less dedicated fans, and the Meat/Steinman combination has always been something special to those same fans. One difference with Hang Cool Teddy Bear is this time Meat has done an album on his own terms without oppression from managers and record companies…and it shows.
There are a number of standout songs on HCTB, all of which do so for their own reasons. Peace on Earth is a great punk-rock influenced song. Living on the Outside a driving song with plenty of riding cymbals and something of a roadhouse feel to it. The single Los Angeloser has its roots in blues, while rock returns in the Kira DeGuiardo duet If I can’t Have You (which also features actor Hugh Laurie on piano.
Love Is Not Real combines a couple of different rock styles to create something epic, while the Jack Black duet, Like a Rose, begins with an acoustic guitar then erupts into another driving anthem. Song of Madness is one of the least straight forward songs on the album, eerie, orchestral and containing Steve Vai’s signature screaming guitar; it certainly stands as a centrepiece of the album.
Following straight on, Did You Ever Love Somebody begins somewhat subdued, with Meat keeping his register unusually low through most of the song, and builds to be an above average ballad. Back into jazzed up blues rock with the opening of California Isn’t Big Enough, with a little of a sixties backing sound and one of most outrageous and best lines ever used in a Meat Loaf song with “I can barely fit my dick in my pants.” sang to a thumping beat somewhat akin to that of 90’s anthem “Word Up”.
Running Away From Me is probably the most peculiar song on the album with quite a few “la la la” lines and an echoed vocal, certainly not an expected Meat song but definitely not a bad song. Let’s Be In Love fits in the mould of a Diane Warren song with a sweeping melody and a big chorus. If It Rains wouldn’t be out of place on an Indie Rock band’s album, again with a big chorus and catchy overall tune. And with the closing Elvis in Vegas, a nostalgic memory trip, the album comes to a typical Meat Loaf finale.
All in all, this album is one that stands out from the back catalogue for its unquestionable finger on the pulse musical style that has been seen only in a couple of Bat 3 songs before in Meat’s discography. Although it can never quite reach the Steinman pinnacle of Anything For Love or Bat Out Of Hell, it probably comes in as top of the rest.
Meat has tried something different and has managed to pull it off. Rarely has there been a Meat Loaf album that I have listened to and instantly felt something for all of the songs, and it is hard to pick out a low point although Peace on Earth, California Isn’t Big Enough and Song of Madness are high points for me.
At the age of 62 all fans known that he cannot make albums like this forever, so they should savour it while they can, but as Hang Cool Teddy Bear displays this Meat isn’t past its sell by date yet.