In 1977, Meat Loaf, fresh off his turn as a late-night snack in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” collaborated with composer Jim Steinman on what would become my favorite album of all time, Bat Out Of Hell. It went on to sell over 40 million copies and inspire two sequel albums.
Along the way, Steinman and the Loaf grew to loathe each other, repeatedly finding themselves in battles — both creative and legal — that lead to their dissolution as a team. Steinman continued to write baroque pop music full of hilarious contradictions while Loaf continued to act between world tours. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself, he never recaptured the magic of his early work.
Now Meat Loaf is back with Hang Cool Teddy Bear, only his fourth release to include zero tracks by Steinman.
Lacking the imitable “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” songwriter, Hang Cool Teddy Bear attempts to distract the listener with a cavalcade of high-profile guest stars that are the very definition of eclectic. It’s sort of like an all-star musical Mad Lib. You have Dr. House himself, Hugh Laurie, playing piano on one track, Brian May, the guitarist from Queen, adding licks to several more … Jack Black even shows up for a duet. Also, the album is named after a line of dialogue from “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” a Russ Meyer movie written by Roger Ebert.
Amongst the seven songwriters on the album are former The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins (taking a short break from his decade-long coke binge) and Foxy Shazam frontman Eric Nally (taking a break from eating lit cigarettes on stage). The two mix their signature high-octave vocal registers to create a pair of tunes, one of which has the chorus, “I can barely fit my dick in my pants! / Wha-ho! / California isn’t big enough for me!”
The problem is it’s a lot more fun to think about a song written by Nally and Hawkins for Loaf than it is to actually listen to it. At its core, Hang Cool Teddy Bear is little more than an ego project with a big fat recording budget. But instead of spending that money on a creative team in top form, Loaf assembled a large crew of well-paid sycophants too afraid of offending their idol to actually let the material breathe.
The album, which also features songs by Kara DioGuardi and a shockingly great track from Jon Bon Jovi, blows right past self-parody into straight-out embarrassment. It’s like Loaf set out to make an album of Meat Loaf-esque songs rather than just an album of Meat Loaf songs. Not helping matters is the fact that none of the writers can match even the lamest pun from Loaf’s heady double-entendre-filled heyday.
The one person who actually acquits himself well is the one man whose participation I was actively dreading, Rob Cavallo. Cavallo’s previous rock opera efforts, Green Day’s excretory American Idiot and My Chemical Romance’s surprisingly fun The Black Parade were some of the worst-produced mainstream hits of recent years. Unlike nearly every other participant, Cavallo appears to have redoubled his efforts and actually produced his first warm and full sounding album. If nothing else, Hang Cool Teddy Bear will hopefully serve as a turning point in his career.
The album is not without its charms. Lines like, “The next time you stab me in the back / do it to my face!” are potent, album opener “Peace on Earth” and “Los Angeloser” are certainly catchy enough and the album on a whole is certainly superior to Loaf’s last effort, Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. But it’s just not enough. At 62, Loaf is too old to play the horny adolescent but still too immature to act even half his age.
As Loaf once sang in “Everything Louder Than Everything Else,” “A wasted youth is better by far / Than a wise and productive old age!”