We all have guilty pleasures — music, books or movies that we’re a bit abashed to admit we enjoy. For me, one of those is Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.
As the title suggests, the album is the follow-up to Meat Loaf’s first solo album, 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, a collaboration between Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman. I wasn’t a fan of that album, finding it bombastic and over the top. For reasons that have been detailed elsewhere, it was another 16 years before the two would collaborate on Back Into Hell. I will be the first to admit it is as bombastic and over the top as its predecessor. So why did it grab me? At the risk of providing more than you’d care to hear, it has a lot to do with circumstances of my life. It not only spoke to particular things at a particular point, what I heard were things one should occasionally be reminded of.
Released 17 years ago this week, I don’t recall how I ended up first hearing the album. What I do know is that preceding year or two were close to a nightmare. A heart attack left me wondering if I would make it to 40, let alone 50. My father died. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My father-in-law suffered a debilitating stroke. That’s not to mention the “routine” stressors for someone approaching “middle age” who’d just built a new house and had three children seven or younger. Suffice it to say there was more than a touch of melancholy, disillusionment and even anger — and, fortunately, a wife who was indispensable in persisting against it all. And those are the emotions the theater and bombast of Back Into Hell addressed, particularly the first five cuts.
A much shorter version of the opening, 12-minute “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” became Meat Loaf’s first and only number one single. Although it has echoes of “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” from the first LP, when I hear this song now it’s like meeting up with an old friend. There’s any number of lines in it that I love to this day (“I know you can save me/No one else can save me now but you”) but the call and response duet near the end of the song can still bring goosebumps. Immediately following is the disillusionment of “Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back.” The elements that make up our life or that we believe important begin to seem defective when “There’s always something going wrong/That’s the only guarantee.” We end up believing that “Everything’s a lie and that’s a fact.”
Moving back to salvation is “Rock and Roll Dreams Come True.” It’s one of the songs on Back Into Hell where so many lyrics said so much. “You can’t run away forever/But there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start” sure sounded good. For me, that head start came from both my wife and music, there “when you really really need it the most.” I agreed that “the angels had guitars even before they had wings/If you hold onto a chorus you can get through the night.” The concept of survival appears in the next tune, “It Just Won’t Quit.” Steinman and Meat Loaf again seemed to be putting some of my thoughts into words: “And I never really sleep anymore/And I always get those dangerous dreams/And I never get a minute of peace/And I gotta wonder what it means.” They also asked questions we all probably confront at some time: “Does it get any better? Can it get any worse?/Will it go on forever or is it over tonight?” Hearing someone express your thoughts sticks with you.
“Out of the Frying Pan” continues the roller coaster. It not only talks about how killing time “will kill you right back,” but, more important, the woman the narrator desires is “the answer to every prayer that I ever said,” something I frequently thought of my wife during these times.
Yet it wasn’t just me who loved the album. It made my wife a Meat Loaf fan (it didn’t carry me quite that far). And, perhaps making others wonder about my parenting skills, my kids also loved it. Even today, my middle daughter may be able to recite verbatim the spoken word “Wasted Youth.” Her favorite lines come from a setting reminiscent of The Doors’ “The End.” As a son stands poised above his parents’ bed, ready to bring an electric guitar crashing down, he cries out, “I said ‘God damn it daddy!/You know I love you/But you got a hell of a lot to learn about rock ‘n roll!'”
Now all of this has been about my relationship with the record. I should also note that although theatrical and occasionally overproduced arena or anthem rock, the album has some excellent musicianship and some superb production values. In addition to Meat Loaf being among the few artists who could pull this off, the album is also further evidence that Roy Bittan, best known for being in Springsteen’s E Street Band, may well be the best rock and roll pianist in the world.
So there’s a lot of reasons Back Into Hell has a permanent place on my iPod. Yeah, it’s a guilty pleasure but one came at the right time in my life.
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“Everything Louder Than Everything Else,” Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell