Braver Than We Are bio
“It’s a tribute to Jim Steinman and really, it’s a tribute to both of us and our work together,” says Meat Loaf. He’s speaking of Braver Than We Are, which is only the third album of his to bear the telling imprimatur “Songs by Jim Steinman” on the front cover, following Bat Out of Hell — which, with 44 million copies sold around the world since its 1977 release, remains one of the top sellers of all time — and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993), which sold 23 million and generated a single, “Anything for Love,” that hit No. 1 in 27 counties. This reunion between the original “wolf with the red roses” and “varsity tackle and a hell of a block” has been a long time in coming, for fans who’ve patiently waited for decades to experience more paradise by the laptop/smartphone/satellite-radio light.
Braver Than We Are has Meat Loaf and Steinman pictured together in the front album cover art for the first time. If you’re worried that the dynamic duo struck some kind of naturalistic pose to replace the sword-and-motorbike-sorcery style of the paintings on the Bat covers, fear not.
“I put that image on this record because I feel that throughout the more than 40 years that Jimmy and I have been working together, we’ve always faced, on anything we’ve ever done together, the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” Meat Loaf says. “And when I wrote my book, I was going to call it On the Outside Looking In, because that’s how I feel about how the music business has viewed us. It’s like they’re inside a store window, and Jimmy and I are standing on the street, looking in like kids at Christmas time. With the film business, it’s never been that way, but it’s always kind of felt that way with music. And that goes back to Bat Out of Hell, and the difficulty we had getting in the door because the songs were long.”
Steinman did not produce Braver Than We Are, as he did Bat II in the 1990s; that duty fell to Paul Crook, a longtime guitarist in Meat Loaf’s touring band. The legendary songwriter is still hunkered down on his long-in-the-works Broadway adaptation of the original Bat Out of Hell album. But for the first time in 23 years, he worked on a new Meat Loaf album from beginning to end, if from afar, first sending suggestions from his back catalog of previously unrecorded songs, then adding different verses or lyrical tweaks to newer ones, and contributing opinions on every aspect – tracks, vocals, overdubs and mixes — before signing off.
The reunion extended further still when both Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito were enlisted to sing on “Going All the Way.” As tens of millions of fans surely recall, “Ellen was the voice on ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’—and also my girlfriend for over a year—and then Karla went on tour with us.” Confusingly, at the time, DeVito also lip-synched Foley’s duet part on the video for “Paradise,” which might have caused some hurt feelings at the time. If ever there were three people you might not have expected to see sharing a studio in 2016, it would be Meat Loaf, Foley, and DeVito. But his instinct to make that happen resulted in some personal good vibes as well as an epic “Song in Six Movements” (as the sprawling tune is subtitled).
The Steinman material spans a nearly 50-year period. “We did the first song that Jim ever wrote, at the age of 19, and we did the last song that he ever wrote, which he finished maybe three weeks before we finished the record.” The just-completed song is “Speaking in Tongues.” And three date all the way back to a musical, The Dream Engine, that Steinman wrote, produced, and starred in when he was a senior at Amherst College in 1969: “Godz,” “Skull of Your Country,” and “Who Needs the Young.” The latter number, with its don’t-trust-anyone-under-60 message, is a wildly acerbic, smart-mouthed Kurt Weill homage… and an unusual way to kick off a rock album. But Meat Loaf figured he’d waited long enough.
The solidarity in Meat Loaf’s and Steinman’s friendship was forged in greatest earnest when they were making the record company rounds in the mid-‘70s and being met with incredulity or dismissed outright. Eventually they aligned with an independent label, Cleveland International, that had a distribution deal with the majors. But even a stocky ex-football player had trouble getting his foot in the door, with the only major credit to his name being a supporting role in the then-unsuccessful Rocky Horror Picture Show film adaptation.
Bat Out of Hell presented a mixture of heightened melodrama and high comedy, equally rooted in ‘60s pop and musical theater, that rock & roll didn’t quite know it was ready for in the prog- and punk-obsessed mid-‘70s. In his autobiography, mogul Clive Davis acknowledged that taking a pass on one of the biggest albums of all time was being one of the few obvious missteps of his career: “The songs were coming over as very theatrical, and Meat Loaf, despite a powerful voice, just didn’t look like a star.” Which, of course, made his becoming an icon one of the great underdog stories in rock history.
That ability to straddle grandiosity and wit served Meat Loaf particularly well when he moved back into acting in the 1980s and beyond, particularly in a seriocomic film like David Fincher’s Fight Club. But on screen or on stage, his characters always take themselves seriously, even if they aren’t meant to be taken completely seriously. And Meat Loaf approaches his craft with that kind of actor’s sobriety, too.
That mixture of piquant observation and complete and utter commitment is a trademark of Meat Loaf’s and Steinman’s musical life together, in which “going all the way” really has always been a mere baseline. Steinman said it — and Meat Loaf embodied it — best: “If you don’t go over the top, you’ll never know what’s on the other side.”