Meat Loaf – Mr Loaf to you – turns 68 on Sunday. Kit Finnie revisits his gothic rock opus Bat Out of Hell to find out if it’s still paradise by the dashboard light or all revved up with no place to go.
The lyrics are apparently by a precociously talented, motorbike-obsessed, year nine schoolboy who’s just realised that girls aren’t smelly after all. Oh, and sung by a 26-year-old Texan Pavarotti.
It’s loud and angsty, it features choirs and strings and ‘lascivious effects’ (I don’t know either), and the storyline is a sci-fi update of Peter Pan.
The meeting of all these elements is so joyously ridiculous that the producer, Todd Rundgren, assumed on first listening that it had to be a parody of something. It isn’t.
The first time I heard it was Christmas Day 2005. I was already a little bit obsessed with Meat after seeing The Rocky Horror Show a few weeks before. He was fascinating, mainly because he was the first unapologetic fat person I’d ever seen. I would use any excuse to escape to HMV, find the Bat CD and gaze at Meat’s portrait on the back, splendid in yellowing blouse and flowing locks, questioning, I now realise, the received information that fat is always synonymous with unsexy.
And Bat had my back. Steinman stuck a motorbike crash in there because he just really liked motorbike crashes. I really liked stupid clothes and detective novels and, occasionally, fat boys, and for the first time, that all felt totally fine.
Rated or dated: A few weeks ago, I was looking at the back cover of Bat, the same one I used to stroke in HMV, which now hangs, unsurprisingly, on my bedroom wall. And I suddenly realised how creepy it is. Jim throttles a faceless woman in a virginal white dress, looking exactly like the kind of guy who today quakes at the word Yewtree. Meanwhile, Meat holds his hand over her unsuspecting bum.
I still can’t unsee that display of male dominance. And it forced me to think more closely about the insidious misogyny in all those gorgeous, mad songs – how women are either objects of lust, or damsels in distress. At a certain angle, it’s an album almost entirely about tricking chicks into doing sex with you. In the cold light of 2015, the ‘underdog’ sheen has almost entirely vanished.
Bat sounds like the album every kid imagines writing when they first pick up a guitar. But by the time their ability catches up with their sensibilities, the goalposts have shifted. Suddenly they want to be Ed Sheeran or Bob Dylan or Frank Turner or some other loser; serious blokes with serious feelings and in-tune E strings.
Meat and Jim are like the kids who never grew up, and this is both their triumph and failure. They still have the imagination and nastiness of teenagers. I can just about look past the bits I don’t like. Because sometimes you’ve got to be kind to your younger self.
Just don’t look up Meat’s opinion on Mitt Romney. That’s a whole other thing.
RATED (tentatively).5911 Views
Kit Finnie is based in North London. When she's not writing poems and stories, she likes to spend time being her own worst enemy. Proof here: @KitFinnie She blogs at kitfinnie.wordpress.com