Meat Loaf ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’ – Review

20 Apr

Subtlty. Restraint. Simplicity. Those are three words that far too often have been ignored in rock music. Even in this post-Ramones world rock stars are still prone to Spinal Tap levels of excess and whats worse is that they do it without a hint of self-awareness. But then there’s Meat Loaf. Old Meat has a twinkle in his eye, a spring in his step and giggle repressed in his throat. Meat is the most bombastic and extravagant rocker on the block but doesn’t he just know it? He flaunts it, he lives it, he owns it. Meat Loaf is out there on his own going down roads good taste has made most people avoid and he loves it. subtlety, restraint and simplicity aren’t being ignored by Meat because he doesn’t even know what those words mean.

‘Bat Out of Hell’ is still a uniquely brilliant album, even in 2010 there is nothing else like it. For the last 30 odd years Meat has been trying to recapture the magic with varying results. It’s two sequels were good if not classic but the rest of his catalogue is defined by singles rather than albums. ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’ hopes to change that as this is a traditional album and care has gone into making it. Apparently it has a loose story but that really didn’t figure on my radar, it certainly didn’t distract me from the killer melodies and typically magnificent vocals. Meat Loaf has a presence that few men do and that shines through a lot on these thirteen tracks. Even on the weaker songs there is wonder to be found in the operatic control of Meat.

Meat Loaf has seen trends come and go and he has outlasted them all. At last though there are changes present on the new album. Don’t worry traditionalists there isn’t anything too radical but there are new ideas to get stuck into. To begin with there isn’t a proper ballad or duet in sight –  not something I thought I would ever say of a Meat Loaf album – maybe he feels he has enough in his back catalogue, and in fairness he’s right. ‘If I Can’t Have You’ comes close but there is more control than the typical Meat Loaf weepie and certainly more bite.

‘Living on the Outside’ is a gospel tinged headbanger, and it’s edgier than anything he’s done in years. It feels like he’s stopped trying to be cool and contemporary (something that backfired badly on certain tracks on his last album) and stuck to the  rockers he does so well; ironically the result is a sound that is more credible and more genuinely innovative than his other 21st century albums. But as I say there are new influences at play. A few of the songs (including single ‘Los Angeloser’) have a country sound that replaces the doo wop and rock n roll influences of older albums. Metal guitars are now incorporated more appropriately so rather than genre pastiches (see ‘The Monster Is Loose’ on the last album) we get a more natural rock experience.

Of course it wouldn’t be a meat loaf album if there weren’t a few absolute stinkers – you’ve got to take the good with the bad. ‘Like A Rose’ is a shocker and the album sags a bit in the middle, but that’s to be expected, Meat Loaf is in his 60’s afterall. But altogether this is a consistent, enjoyable record. If it’s missing anything it’s an out-and-out single, there just isn’t one here. And I might as well mention the elephant in the room; Jim Steinman, writer of Meat’s best material, is notable by his absence. I would like to say he isn’t missed but in actual fact he is exactly what is missed. Whilst ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’ works well as a contemporary update of the Meat Loaf sound the songs themselves aren’t as strong as the material Meat did for Jim. Even on the patchy ‘Bat Out Of Hell III’ there were still some classic Jim Steinman tunes to get stuck into.

You know what to expect from a Meat Loaf album, and you get it in bucket loads on ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’. If you’ve never been a fan then that probably won’t change now, even though there are some things you might not expect. Fans though should be happy despite the lack of a big ballad or Steinmam tune. So you can’t please everyone, and Meat knows that best of all, but he’s still out there on his own, doing what he does best.

7/10

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