Meat Loaf Talks Jim Steinman Reunion, Onstage Collapse
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman have a long history of shattering expectations. When the singer and songwriter first teamed up in the mid-1970s for Bat Out of Hell, it was the height of disco, and no label thought their bombastic, theatrical version of rock & roll would ever find an audience. The album sold more than 30 million copies. After years of estrangement, the pair came back together in 1993 for Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. It was the peak of the grunge movement and to most everyone the idea of a new Meat Loaf album seemed like a joke, but the single "I Would Do Anything for Love (but I Won't Do That)" shot to Number One all over the globe and the album sold by the millions.
It was one of the most shocking comebacks in music history, but the past repeated itself when Meat Loaf continued to record without Steinman in the aftermath of the album and record buyers were largely disinterested in the results. Ten years ago, Meat Loaf recorded Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. It was billed a reunion with Jim Steinman and he was credited on every track, but the two men were in the midst of $50 million lawsuit over the Bat Out of Hell trademark and didn't truly collaborate. The songs on Bat III were limited to older Steinman compositions like "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," which was a hit for Celine Dion in 1996.
"I'm not gonna get into the political aspects of Bat Out of Hell III," Meat Loaf says today. "I wanted to strangle somebody, but not Jimmy, trust me. There is no Bat Out of Hell III. That should have never happened. To me, that record is nonexistent. It doesn't exist."
The next two Meat Loaf albums (2010's Hang Cool Teddy Bear and 2011's Hell in a Handbasket) contained no Steinman compositions, and neither of them found much of an audience. But while promoting them Meat Loaf repeatedly said that he was laying the groundwork for a long-awaited reunion with Steinman. "He's my brother and I love him more than you'll ever know," he said in 2011. "And I know that Jim and I will work together again. I know it for a fact. He doesn't know it, but I do."
Meat Loaf's prophecy is finally coming true on September 16th with the release of his new LP, Braver Than We Are, which features 10 Steinman compositions, even though the 68-year-old songwriter has reportedly suffered serious health problems in recent years and rarely appears in public. "He never went to the studio," says Meat Loaf. "But we had him on the Internet the entire time we recorded. Through the board, he could hear everything we were playing." (Meat Loaf refuses to address Steinman's health. "We're not gonna talk about that," is all he'll say on the matter.)
Despite Jim Steinman's heavy involvement with the album and his renewed relationship with Meat Loaf, he didn't actually write songs from scratch for the LP. Five of them ("Who Needs the Young," "Train of Love," "Souvenirs," "Skull of Your Country," "Godz") pre-date the original Bat Out of Hell, while the rest were either recorded by other Steinman collaborators like Bonnie Tyler, played live by his mid-2000s group the Dream Project or used in his 2002 musical Dance of the Vampires. They have been significantly re-worked though, and "Skull of Your Country" even contains bits of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." "You keep bringing up what's old," Meat Loaf says when pressed on the matter. "To me, a song is new every time I sing it."
Steinman isn't the only former Meat Loaf collaborator to return for Braver Than We Are. "Going All the Way" features Ellen Foley, who duetted with Meat Loaf on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and Karla DeVito, who performed on the Bat Out of Hell tour and lip-synced to Foley's voice in the "Dashboard Light" video. "That lead to a lot of friction between them since everyone thought it was Karla" says Meat Loaf. "I don't know if they'd ever been in the same room, but I guarantee they had never spoken before. We planned it so they arrived at the same time. They hugged and instantly became best friends. It was unbelievable."
Todd Rundgren produced Bat I and the "nonexistent" Bat III, while Steinman manned the board himself for the second one. Braver Than We Are was produced by Paul Cook, Meat Loaf's touring guitarist. "We were in Nashville recording my vocals on 'Souvenirs' when he just shut down," says Meat Loaf. "He got real upset and kept saying, 'Why are doing this to me? Whey are you treating me like that? It's so intense in this room that I feel sick to my stomach.' I sat down in a chair and said, 'Paul, I have no idea what you're talking about.' I think I was projecting the character so strongly that it made him sick.'"
At age 68, and after enduring vocal-cord hemorrhages that literally had blood shooting out of his mouth during a 2011 Australian tour, the character no longer has the same vocal range he did when he cut the Bat Out of Hell albums. He's turned that into an asset on Braver Than We Are, which is a gentler, more reflective album than the Bat Out of Hell albums, referring time again to the aging process. "Meat Loaf is heroic in his ravaged voice," Steinman wrote in an online letter about the LP, "tragically heroic."
Just last month, fans worried that Meat Loaf had pushed himself too far when he collapsed onstage while performing "I Would Do Anything for Love" at a June 16th show in Edmonton, Alberta. "I was sick and when you get older you get dehydrated," he says. "I hit the high note on that song and I got really, really dizzy. I went, 'Oh, my God, I'm gonna pass out.' I didn't want to fall forward and break my neck going off the stage, so I started to go down easily and halfway down I went out. I didn't wake up until we got to the hospital." Video of the incident appears to show vocals continuing after Meat Loaf collapse, but he vehemently denies lip-syncing. "All these musical geniuses were accusing me of that," he says. "Look at the video. You hear a live mic hit the stage."
Things went far better when Meat Loaf played a series of show in Canada in late June and early July, and European and U.S. Braver Than We Are dates will be announced in the near future. The singer campaigned with Mitt Romney in 2012, but don't expect him to speak out for Donald Trump even though he appeared on Celebrity Apprentice in 2011. "I don't talk about politics," he says. "Not getting involved in politics at all."