MEAT LOAF – Braver Than We Are (2016)
Braver Than We Are is apparently Meat Loaf’s last album. Even if that wasn’t the intention, once the fanbase gets hold of this, that will be the end result. This is a career killer.
The bravest aspect of this release is how anyone other than Meat Loaf would want to put their name on it. And I don’t say any of this lightly. I’ve had the album advance for nearly 2 months now and I have to force myself to play it to review.
Now, before the abuse from card carrying Meat Loaf fan club members starts – people who maybe have never read this site before – let’s get a couple of facts straight. Firstly – Jim Steinman is one of the greatest songwriters of this age. I’ve got everything he has ever done. Ever. And Meat Loaf is Jim’s greatest foil. He takes his songs and elevates them to a majestic level that no other artist has been able to reach. Some have come close (Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply & Pandora’s Box), but Meat is (or was at least) one of a kind.
I’ve got every Meat album too. We know they are a little hit and miss, but a couple of his recent efforts since Bat 2 were pretty damn good. This isn’t. At all.
I rate Bat 1&2 as two of the best pomp rock albums in history. But as much as I hate to say it, Meat is done. And I’ve lost a lot of respect for him recently as he continues to mime his way across the world on a farewell lap he should have taken a decade ago. I’ve seen Meat live. He was amazing, but the health problems and the lost voice suggests he should have retired on top.
Not only has Meat’s voice sunk to a level hitherto uncharted by any recording artist I can recall, but the songs just don’t work as a cohesive release here. The sporadic nature of their origins gives the album a disjointed approach that perhaps could be glued together by a dynamite performance from the big man, but when he fails to show up, the scattered nature becomes so much more obvious.
The album opens in bizarre fashion. Who Needs the Young is a track more suited to the opening of a circus than a bombastic rock album. And it is at the 1 minute 40 mark that the fate of this entire album is determined. That’s 5 seconds after Meat starts “singing” and you realize that his voice is absolutely shot.
The jazzy, cabaret style 1920s tune might sound completely at home among other similar tracks in one of Steinman’s musicals, but this 5-minute romp is possibly one of the worst lead album tracks in recent memory. The 11 minute plus Going All the Way Is Just the Start (A Song in 6 Movements) is everything I love about Jim Steinman’s epic songwriting. Had Meat recorded it 10 years ago, I’m sure it could be another huge hit. All the required elements of a Steinman epic are here – pounding piano, ever changing tempos and bombastic overtures. It’s a great song and my favourite of the album I guess, but only because the starring role is taken by vocalists Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito. Meat’s vocal parts sound labored and painful at times and even in a support role they detract from the female leads. The production is also lacking that hands on Steinman stamp – the drum sound in particular is of little impact.
And already we have a ballad in play – the sparse piano and acoustic guitar driven Speaking in Tongues is all about the vocals, but it’s missing that big booming voice required to take it to any level worth remembering. Stacy Michelle tries to lift it, but instead it labors along and kills any momentum set up by the last track. Loving You’s a Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It) features Stacy Michelle once again trying to mask how bad Meat’s unsteady, barely in tune vocals are. Another terrific song from Jim, but one that’s some 30 years old and delivered better back in the day by Bonnie Tyler. Love Stacey’s voice, but her performance is not enough to make the song what it could have been.
Another epic is up – the 8 minute Souvenirs kicks in with some subtle horns and then one of Meat’s most wobbly vocals of the album. God I hate typing this. The brass plays on through the track and takes us back to the early days of Meat & Jim, but the track really doesn’t get going until the 5-minute mark, when the vocals lift along with the tempo, but there really isn’t any reason for this track to run so long.
Only When I Feel is one of those quirky short Steinman songs that’s just a little left of centre and typically acts a circuit breaker on his albums. And I like the premise here – but once again, I’m sorry to say, but Meat’s vocals are barely listenable. I love the passion he’s trying to deliver and I can feel him hurting, its emotional. But it’s just soul destroying to hear.
Then we dive straight into the completely over the top, hard rocking More. It’s the first time the angst and the passion has really boiled over on this relatively restrained album. The track retains its gothic overtones from the original Sisters Of Mercy recording back in the day and it does suit the big man, but it stands out as a little out of place. Once again female lead vocals are brought in to get Meat through the song.
Godz is just completely bizarre. More a spoken word track, with a heavy, bombastic guitar sound, it’s another interesting left turn from Steinman, but I think won’t be received that well in the context of the rest of this album.
Skull of Your Country is another piano ballad with more female lead (this time featuring Cian Coey) morphing part of Total Eclipse Of The Heart with a new verse and chorus. More music than vocals (yet again), it’s an ok song that you just wish was more over the top.
Closing this sorry album is the crappy fast moving pop/rock Train of Love, featuring a horrible chorus, really poor programming and a totally forgettable hook. What a disappointing way to finish a disappointing album.
This is a truly horrible way to end a grand recording career. The whole album just doesn’t gel – from the missing “Jim” factor (collaborating from afar hasn’t worked), to the restrained almost laid back feel of the album, to Meat’s vocal performance – words just can’t describe that.
I’m sure Meat will say it’s all intentional, but no-one sings like this intentionally. And if his voice isn’t completely gone, why is he miming on stage?
I’m beyond disappointed and this comes from a lifetime Steinman/Meat Loaf fan. I doubt I’ll ever play this album again.