Yes, the rumors are true: Meat Loaf’s voice is not what it used to be. Ravaged by health issues, age and time, the mighty bellower can bellow no more. On BRAVER THAN WE ARE, his distinctive and powerful voice is now a raspy rumble – more ‘Steve Forbert impersonating Leonard Cohen’ than the Meat Loaf of old. Many people are likely going to ask why Mr. Loaf decided to make this album in the first place. The answer, my friends, is passion and determination – you can’t keep an old Meat Loaf down. Remember, this is an artist that sold millions of copies of BAT OUT OF HELL (1977) a year or two after almost every label turned the project down. And then he did it again in 1993 with BAT OUT OF HELL II, an album that defied all the odds and became a huge success in the midst of the abysmal grunge invasion. In short, Meat Loaf doesn’t necessarily play it safe – he does what he does and we definitely pay attention.
Success of the two BAT albums aside, many folks in the U.S. don’t realize that Meat continued making albums between those two blockbusters and he has continued to record ever since. There’s even BAT OUT OF HELL III: THE MONSTER IS LOOSE, an album that went largely unnoticed by the general public in the U.S. when it was released in 2006. He may not be a prolific recording artist but each Meat Loaf release has been a cause for celebration. Each album has been theatrical, bombastic, melodic, emotional and powerful – everything that the BAT albums are but minus total involvement from Meat’s not-so-secret weapon, songwriter Jim Steinman. Yes, there have been Steinman songs on almost every one of Meat’s albums, but he hasn’t written a full Meat album since BAT II. Thankfully, on BRAVER THAN WE ARE, Steinman penned every track, and while they may not be ‘new’ songs, they have never appeared on a Meat Loaf album until now.
Meat and Jim work well apart, but together they are the Dynamic Duo – every song is a trip through Rock ‘n’ Roll’s past, present and future. Like mixing mid-‘70s Bruce Springsteen with the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, their work together can be both playful and menacing. Within every glorious crescendo there is heartbreak, within every gentle piano chord, a maniacal grin. BRAVER THAN WE ARE takes that to the next level – this is an album created under great pressure and while Meat Loaf’s voice is not what it used to be, he is well aware of the situation. He’s pressing forward and making the best of it. That’s kind of what you expect from a Meat Loaf album.
While Meat’s voice has been strained in recent years – the very fine HANG COOL TEDDY BEAR (2010) and HELL IN A HANDBASKET (2011) albums lacked the vocal power of old – the man has pushed himself to the limit and revealed that he is, indeed, human after all. During a 2011 tour Down Under, he was spitting blood during his performances, thanks to vocal-cord hemorrhages. Much like Harry Nilsson did during the PUSSY CATS recording sessions back in ’74 (Google it!), Meat permanently damaged his voice beyond repair. BRAVER THAN WE ARE doesn’t find him a broken man, though. Like James Brown during his live performances, Meat just keeps on going long after the cape is placed on his shoulders and he’s about to be ushered off stage. If anything, the album shows that Meat doesn’t give up without a fight. That, in itself, makes this an emotionally powerful album.
The album starts out with the wonderfully weird “Who Needs The Young” that blends the theatrical sound of early Split Enz with the sturdy and reliable Rock finesse of the E-Street Band. “Going All The Way Is Just The Start” (featuring vocals from Karla Bonoff and Ellen Foley) is an extraordinary 11+ minute opus that seems to last less than half that time – it is on par with Steinman’s finest songs. “Skull Of Your Country” is a great alternate-universe visit to Steinman’s classic “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (and it uses the same ‘Turn around…’ hook!). “More” finds meat turning Sisters Of Mercy’s track into a Meat Loaf monster (did you even know the Goth act recorded a Steinman-penned nugget?).
There are more highlights but I’ve already taken up enough of your time. All I can say is that this is most definitely a Meat ‘n’ Jim record that may not immediately sound like one of their previous masterpieces, but there’s no denying that Mr. Loaf is giving it all he’s got. Prepare yourself for this new Meat Loaf recipe and enjoy…
Stephen SPAZ Schnee