Review: Meat Loaf, Steinman reunite on 'Better Than We Are'

JILL LAWLESS
This cover image released by Savoy shows, "Braver Than We Are," a new release by Meat Loaf. (Savoy via AP)

Meat Loaf, "Braver Than We Are" (429 Records)

The cover of "Braver Than We Are" bears two names, those of rock belter Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman.

It's a rare writer who gets his name front and center, but Steinman is unique. His blend of hard-rock hooks, high emotion and camp silliness fused with Meat Loaf's runaway-train vocals to give the world "Bat Out of Hell," a 1970s rock classic and one of the ultimate guilty-pleasure albums.

Their likably bombastic new album should please devotees of operatic, over-the-top rock, though it may not make new converts.

It's a surprising word to use about a Meat Loaf record, but "Braver Than We Are" feels underpowered. The 68-year-old is no longer the unrestrained screamer of yore. His voice is gravelly and subdued, at times overwhelmed by Paul Crook's grandiose production.

The songs were written over a 50-year period, and include several originally intended for "Bat Out of Hell."

Opener "Who Needs the Young" is just odd: shoo-wop backing vocals behind a cabaret-style lament about the depredations of age, written when Steinman was 19.

"Going All the Way" is closer to the classic Steinman-Loaf template: a flamboyant, 11-minute epic duet that builds to a rousing crescendo. It features Meat Loaf's longtime collaborators Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito, in fine form.

Stacey Michelle brings vocal flair to the gospel-tinged duet "Speaking in Tongues," while "Loving You is a Dirty Job" — a song once recorded by Bonnie Tyler — is a hook-laden ode to passionate, combative love.

Other tracks feel disappointingly generic or half-baked. Meat Loaf fans may want this album, may even need it — it's less likely they'll love it. But two out of three ain't bad.