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.