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Meat Loaf's "Bat" Takes Flight Again
 


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Meat Loaf has a “Bat” attitude again.

The veteran rocker, who got his start 35 years ago at Motown, releases “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose” on Tuesday (October 31st), continuing the most successful album franchise of all time. Its two predecessors — 1977’s “Bat Out of Hell” and 1993’s “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell” — have sold nearly 50 million copies combined, and the guy The New York Times calls Mr. Loaf fully appreciates that anything under the “Bat” umbrella lets him soar to heights he might not otherwise reach.

“ ‘Bat Out of Hell’ is bigger than me,” says the 59-year-old singer. “ (‘Bat’) is bigger than any of us who are involved. Meat Loaf becomes the spoke in the wheel of an event, and it’s the event that takes over.”

The mechanism of “Bat III” has been rolling since the summer, when Major League Baseball — which has been loosely affi liated with Meat Loaf since he used Hall of Fame broadcaster Phil Rizzuto for the spoken segment on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” — began playing “The Monster is Loose” to the league for play at ballparks during broadcasts. There’s been an extensive Internet campaign, plenty of TV appearances and even a “Bat III” release event Halloween night at more than 100 movie theaters across the country.

“The strategy with ‘Bat III’ is just to make people aware that it’s out,” explains Jason Flom, chairman and CEO of Virgin Records, which is releasing the album. “Everybody loves the ‘Bat Out of Hells.’ It’s a piece of pop culture history. The franchise is amazing. The artwork and everything is like the Coca-Cola can. It’s a piece of Americana.”

Loading up the ‘Bat’

For Meat Loaf, meanwhile, “Bat III” has been an exercise in both heaven and hell — not unlike its predecessors.

Mostly, “Bat III” faced a pitched battle between the singer and Jim Steinman, the “Bat” series’ creator and composer of the first two albums. The two met during their theater days, when Loaf — who had established a rep in a Fisher Theatre production of “Hair” and in “The Rocky Horror Show” and its famous fi lm adaptation — appeared in Steinman’s musical “More Than You Deserve.” “Bat” took wing when the two were touring together on the National Lampoon Road Show in the mid-’70s.

All melodrama and bombast, “Bat Out of Hell” stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for 82 weeks and launched the enduring hits “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth.” But a sequel was long in coming; overwhelmed by the fi rst “Bat’s” success, Meat Loaf suffered what he considers a psychosomatic voice loss while trying to make the follow-up.

“I thought it was way too early,” explains the man born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, who was given his nickname as a youth, for his imposing girth. “My intuition said: ‘You don’t want to do this yet. Come back in five years and do it.’ ”

Steinman recorded the songs himself for 1981’s “Bad for Good,” which didn’t come close to equalling “Bat’s” success. “Bat II” flew high, however, winging to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and winning a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for the chart-topping single “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

Meat Loaf — who made his recording debut on Motown in 1971 in partnership with Shaun “Stoney” Murphy, a longtime member of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band and now also a member of Little Feat — had every intention of working with Steinman again on “Bat III,” and the two started the album in late 2001. But Steinman suffered some health setbacks, including a heart attack, and Meat Loaf made the difficult decision to move forward without him — though the album does include seven Steinman songs, including the title track from “Bad for Good” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” a track written for “Bat II” that subsequently became a hit for Celine Dion. (Meat Loaf performed the song with Katherine McPhee during this year’s “American Idol” fi nale.)

“It was absolutely selfi sh on my part,” Loaf says of the move. “His health was the main concern for me. I know the stamina that it takes to put together a ‘Bat Out of Hell’ record, and the intensity. I just did not believe he was healthy enough to sustain it.

“The decision not to use Steinman has taken its toll on me. It was not easy, because I am a really loyal person. But I had to make the decision that was right. I couldn’t sit around and wait.”

But Steinman’s manager, David Sonenberg, contends that while the composer “had some meaningful health problems about four years ago, he’s been totally healthy the last couple of years. That’s not the reason he didn’t participate in (‘Bat III’).”

Sonenberg says Steinman is currently working on a theatrical “Bat” piece, which will probably debut in England.

Amid all this, Meat Loaf wound up in court to wrest control of the “Bat” copyright from Steinman, who he says had obtained it through an attorney’s “clerical error.” The $50 million suit was settled out of court.

A heavier direction

Without Steinman, Meat Loaf says he was free to set “Bat III” in a different direction.

“It’s much more of a rock album,” he says. “We wanted this project to be edgier. I wanted to do that on ‘Bat II,’ but that’s not something Jim really embraced.”

Meat Loaf enlisted producer/ songwriter Desmond Child — who’s had hits with Aerosmith, Kiss and others and is a major “Bat” fan himself — to take the helm of “Bat III” and got songwriting help from Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx and Michigan natives John5 (Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie) and James Michael. John5, Steve Vai and Queen’s Brian May are among the album’s guitar players.

And in order to get the musicians in the appropriate mood, Child started each session by playing Slipknot albums on a boom box.

“I didn’t just want to bring in rock players; I wanted to go to

extreme

rock people,” Meat Loaf explains. “It’s edgier. It’s heavier. It has all the touches of the other two ‘Bats,’ but it’s much more of a rock album than either one of them, which I’m happy about.”

Meat Loaf has put his acting career on hold — turning down offers for fi ve films and appearances on the TV series “Heroes” and “CSI” — to keep “Bat III” airborne into 2007. (He does appear as Jack Black’s father in “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny,” the pseudo-documentary of the heavy metal acoustic duo made up of Black and Kyle Gass, opening Nov. 22.) He played a special “Bat” concert in London earlier this month and has similar shows planned for Broadway and several other cities during the next three weeks, before launching a world tour next March in Florida.

And mostly he’s steeling himself for a long stretch of singing this demanding and draining material.

“What ties ’em all together,” he explains, “is that they’re all very funny, they’re all tonguein-cheek and they’re all high, peak emotional moments. They’re all these high-tension moments, really stressful moments for everybody.

“Maybe that’s what makes them so difficult to make.”





Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” release event, featuring a documentary, live footage and the video for the first single, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” will be shown at 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Emagine Novi, 44425 W. 12 Mile Road; the Emagine Canton, 39535 Ford Road; the Showcase Cinemas Flint West, 1591 S. Graham Road; and the Showcase Cinemas Ann Arbor, 4100 Carpenter Road. Admission is $15. Visit

Web Site: www.pillarentertainment.com

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