Has it really been since 2012 since Meat Loaf last released a studio album? Hell in a Handbasket was released in March 2012 in the United States and I saw Meat Loaf for the first time in fall of 2012.
I spent most of 2012 and 2013 spinning Hang Cool Teddy Bear. At the time it was my favorite Meat Loaf album since the Christmas that I got Bat Out of Hell III and spun the track off of that CD.
When I heard that Meat Loaf was going to be working on what eventually became Braver Than We Are and when I found out that it was going to be mostly Jim Steinman songs I of course couldn’t help but to be excited. I’m excited every time that I hear that Meat Loaf is going to be working on new music. I’ve been a Meat Loaf fan since I was very young, probably in elementary or middle school. I’ve gone through his entire discography, discovering new parts of his music that I didn’t know from my parent’s lacking collection of Bat Out of Hell. Bat Out of Hell III and Hang Cool Teddy Bear are the albums I grew up to, they are the Meat Loaf albums of my generations, even if they weren’t written for me and even if no one else my age listens to them, they mean the world to me.
And so I’ve waited for Braver Than We Are, reading all of the news updates that I could get about it and when it became available for pre-order, I ordered it just as quickly as I could afford to.
Now the album is finally here, released on September 16, almost ten years to the day from when Bat Out of Hell III came out.
On the back cover of the CD case, under the track list is a line; a warning, a selling point, a declaration – take it for what you will. It reads: This Record Is Explicit and Politically Incorrect.
Without any further ado, here is my review of Braver Than We Are.
The album starts with the track “Who Needs The Young” which is not only a testament to Jim Steinman’s tongue-in-cheek gothic style of writing. The lyric content of the song is dark while the music is bouncy and flared with piano and saxophone. It is almost jazzy.
“Who needs the young? // The revelation of their faces and their hair // When all we have are withered traces of the faces we once were // And suffocation in the dirty, fatal air // Who needs the young bodies floating in the sun?
“Who needs the young? // The celebration of the races that they’ve won // the sadomasochistic things they’ve never done // Disgusting // And all the places that they never will have gone // Who needs the young bodies floating in the sun? Who needs the young?”
The protagonist is dealing with the very real terror of aging and growing old.
“My lips just aren’t what they were // Is there anyone left who can kiss? Spit on him!”
“My mid just wasn’t what it was // Is there anyone left who can dream? Wake him!”
“My voice just isn’t what it was // Is there anyone left who can sing? Silence him!”
Before the final lyric the protagonist, in Steinman tradition, states:
“My sex just isn’t what it was // Is there anyone left who can fuck? Screw him!”
And as the song fades out the last line is, “Who needs the young when we’re spending all the rest of our wonderful lives learning to die?”
For all of the bombast, bravado, and in-you’re-face insistence of hard rock and heavy metal today, it doesn’t get more real or more terrifying than that line.
The second song, and the longest on the album at 11:28, “Going All The Way (A Song in 6 Movements)” starts with a beautiful piano-driven instrumental bit and Meat Loaf begins the tale:
“Sometimes it’s the night // And the way it seems to cry // And whisper terrifying secrets in your ear // Sometimes it’s the day // And the sun has got no mercy // Lighting up and burning everything that’s in its way.”
In the song Meat Loaf passes off vocal duty to Karla at first, and her to Ellen. Ellen and Karla sing together: “And you think that my life is shining like a star // But the fears are never very far.”
And then they all sing together:
“We always seem so much braver than we ever are // We always dream we seem braver but we never are.”
This line speaks to me more deeply than anything has in a while. I’ve grown up in a culture of friends and peers and mentors who have all put on brave faces, who were all afraid to talk about how they felt, who were all afraid to appear weak. We don’t talk about our fears or trepidations or nightmares. In turn, new friends, peers and mentees believe that we are braver than we are. We hope that our braveness will be our strength.
Lyrically “Going All The Way” is rare form, even for the Jim Steinman, my forever vote for world’s greatest lyricist. It is “Bat Out of Hell” meets “I Would Do Anything For Love” meets “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams Come True” – it is love, adventure, torment and perseverance all wrapped up in a package so perfectly produced that it never drags once in its 11 minutes and in fact it leaves me wanting more.
I cannot put into words the way Karla DeVito and Ellen Foley add to this song, I cannot do justice the way the three pass the lyrics back and forth, building and building and building the song. I cannot express the great well of emotion I feel when all three vocalists sing in unison. You simply must hear it for yourself.
The third song is “Speaking In Tongues”. This song is a raunchy duet-ballad and Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman fans would accept nothing less.
The song includes lyrics such as:
“It’s the time to start a fire // and I know we’ll make it good // We’re overflowing with desire // You’ve got the spark, I got the wood.”
As well as:
“There are things we learn by knowledge // There are things we learn by heart // There are things we learn at the end of life // There are things we learn at the start // There are things we learn by science // There are things we learn by art // There are things we learn from the fires of love // An erection of heart.”
Just as Steinman seems to have no time for discussing the terror of aging in extended metaphor, nor does he seem to have any time left for using long, drawn-out baseball metaphors to speak about sex.
The album goes from “Speaking In Tongues” to “Loving You Is A Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It)”.
Stacy Michelle takes up vocal duty across from Meat Loaf on this song. After Meat Loaf finishes singing the title of the song for the first time, Michelle sings:
“There were times when we’d never fake it // There were times we would always make it // There were times we would take it to the limit // And we’d never; ever; ever leave each other alone // We were flesh and blood and bone // There were times we had it all // There were times we had it all.”
Michelle and Meat Loaf sing back and forth. The protagonists of the song reminiscence on all of the love and passion and fire that existed between the two, they reminisce the good and the bad. The music goes soft as Meat Loaf sings the final lyric, which closes with the lines, “There were times we had it all // There were times we lost it all.”
The fifth song, the halfway point in this Steinmanian journey is a song called “Souvenirs”. The greatest moment of this song is the way it reminds the die-hard Steinman fan of the way his songs are meant for musicals.
The third stanza of the song goes:
“Cause you’ve been cold to me so long, I’m crying icicles instead of tears.” And opposite the way the man was made to leave in “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, the man protagonist in “Souvenirs” tells the woman, “Pack your bags and move on out // There ain’t nothing left for you here.”
The true intermission of the album is the sixth song, “Only When I Feel”.
The music of the eighth song “Godz” reminds me of “The Great Boleros of Fire”, which Meat Loaf and Steinman used to open with when they toured on Bat Out of Hell. To that musical backdrop Meat Loaf does an almost spoken word lyric:
“In this country, // The man with a dream needs luck // Only if someone with power will help him // Can he make all his dreams come true.”
The surprise of “Skull of Your Country”, a lyrical power house in its own right is the presence of Bonnie Tyler. Meat Loaf still does most of the singing but Tyler constantly pleas, “Turnaround!” The song even includes the eternal line, “Turnaround bright eyes!”
The song ends:
“Turnaround // For the blood on the highways // Turnaround // For the new war each day // Turnaround // For the skies are hungry // Turnaround // For the earth is thirsty.”
And a listener may wonder if the protagonist(s) will turn around in time. A listener may wonder if they themselves will turn around in time.
The final song, “Train of Love” picks up the pace and sends the album off with a bang!
From the first angsty, scared lyric of “Who Needs The Young” to the end of the soulful “Train of Love” Braver Than We Are kicks out 100% unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll that rocks and grooves and sinks and soothes from near-jazz funk to gut-wrenching blues, with just enough hard rock thrown in so you never forget you’re listening to Meat Loaf.
Recommended Tracks: “Who Needs The Young” & “Going All The Way”.