Full disclosure: I don’t like the original Bat Out of Hell. I know most of the words to the songs and probably even most of the words in the spoken word parts. But I hate what that record represents – nostalgia meets the Broadway musical meets arena rock – and the whole thing is so long and so overdone it’s really, really hard to take in one sitting. I bet that if you got me drunk enough, I would gladly sing along – hell, I could probably do karaoke versions if I could ever get drunk the right kind of drunk to both get up in front of people but still be able to sing – but sober I cannot handle the record. It is just way too cheesy and way too over-the-top for me.
Nothing has ever made me long for Bat Out of Hell like its sequel. With the exception of the lead track and most famous song, every single song on here would not have made the cut on the original. They are all weaker both in terms of melody and in terms of Steinmen’s ridiculous lyrics. (Those lyrics were already ridiculous but here they feel more ridiculous because he’s older.) Steinmen didn’t even have enough material, reusing multiple songs from multiple other projects – though he’d tell you they were from this project when he first conceived it after the success of the first record – which gives the record an outtakes/alternate versions feel rather than that of a cohesive “rock opera feel.”
The catchiest and “best” song here is 12 minutes long meaning that, whatever you may feel about it 5 or 6 minutes in, you hate it when it’s over. (This isn’t a 12 minute suite of song fragments; it’s the same song for 12 minutes with the only musical development coming when the lead singer changes and there are slightly different lyrics. Because: why not?)
The worst thing here is Steinman’s reuse of his bizarre comedy piece “Wasted Youth” (which was part of a solo record of his in the past) which makes you think this all must be some elaborate joke that we weren’t let in on. But it’s the only time that veneer breaks. Todd Rundgren, the producer of the original, is on record as saying he thought the first one was a Springsteen parody and that’s why he agreed to do it. But “Wasted Youth” is the only thing here that allows you to see a real sense of humour – if it’s intentionally funny – and it’s so out of character with the rest of record it’s hard to see much humourous intention in these epic songs.
And the song lengths, jesus christ the song lengths. This is a record that could only exist due to CD technology. The shortest of the first 6 tracks is nearly six minutes long. There are 11 songs here and only two of them are shorter than three minutes – one of those is the aforementioned “Wasted Youth,” which is not a song – and only three are under 5 minutes. The average (average!!!) length of these songs is seven minutes. And there’s no real musical development in them, just restating themes over and over again with slight changes in tempo and arrangement. If Bat Out of Hell is a musical without a plot posing as a rock album, the sequel is a Broadway flop which flopped because they forgot to workshop the material and decided the audience just wanted to hear every musical number ad nauseum. Then the cast and crew wondered why audience walked out after the 25th repetition of one of the choruses.
Needless to say the arrangements are over the top. This is Jim Steinman we’re talking about. (Poor Meat Loaf.)
This record sold at least 14 million copies. It’s one of those records that must be embarrassing to own for at least half of those people. (I wish it were more.) I’d say it was the worst album to sell at least 14 million copies, but I just listened to Hangin’ Tough and I’m pretty sure they sold roughly the same number. (In fairness to Back Into Hell, Hangin’ Tough is clearly worse.)