Let me get this out in the open before I begin. I have never been a fan of Meat Loaf. For such a legend of rock, I found his music incredibly tame, and bordering on quite sappy and bland. He was just an artist I didn’t get. Popular? Undeniable. To my tastes? Barely, which is why his new release, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” came as such a surprise to me. It is actually really good.
“Hang Cool Teddy Bear” is apparently the start of a new series of albums, like his previous “Bat Out Of Hell” trilogy. This time it deals with a wounded soldier’s visions of future lives he could have lived. Produced by Rob Cavello, the producer who gave Green Day their first steps into the realm of the concept album with American Idiot, this album sounds great. One problem I had with listening to older Meat Loaf was that for all the intended bombast, it never really came across due to incredibly flat and dull production. This is honestly not the case here. Sweeping orchestras, soaring choirs all back up the core, classic rock line up of guitar, bass, piano, drums and vocals. But that’s the main point, it doesn’t wash the rock into the background. Finally, the guitar track is actually audible on a Meat Loaf release!
I don’t know whether it will apply to rest of the series, but this first release filled with celebrity appearances. Justin Hawkins (most famously of The Darkness) turns up co-writing some of the songs and singing backup, Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the final track of the album, and Steve Vai and Brian May both play lead guitar on a couple of the tracks. After playing Meat Loaf’s son in the movie “Pick Of Destiny”, Jack Black lends his backing vocals to a track, an American Idol judge sings a duet with Mr. Loaf and, craziest of all, the multitalented Hugh Laurie appears to lend his piano chops to the already star studded “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”.
This is of course forgetting the real star of the show, Meat Loaf himself. He may be getting on in years, but it hasn’t done his voice any harm. If anything, it’s added more of an edge. Meat Loaf’s voice is still flying high like you’d expect, but he’s gained a growl, a gruffer edge, and it really works for him. This isn’t the vocal of an aging rocker, this is the vocal at the peak of maturity. It’s very lucky that he is still so good because he is taking on quite an eclectic mix of styles here. He runs the gauntlet from waltzing power ballads to hip-hop influenced rockabilly, screaming blues-rock to prog-heavy metal. It is actually kind of amazing that so many songwriters writing so many styles could produce such a cohesive album. Each track flows really well to the next, despite only being linked by this overarching concept of a soldier’s visions, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way. This isn’t story album, it’s a collection of interlinked tracks and gladly they do manage to link.
This album has managed to convert me. Ok, you still won’t find “I Would Do Anything For Love” on my iPod, but I have had a great time with “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”. Meat Loaf’s consistently strong vocal is finally backed up by great songwriters, high-class production and star musicians, offering the backing that Meat Loaf has always deserved. Occasionally it’s a little corny, but it’s all part of the fun, and it wouldn’t be Meat Loaf without it. Lets just say I’m definitely keeping my eye out for “Hang Cool Teddy Bear II”
Living On The Outside
Like A Rose
Song Of Madness