Five Spot: Meat Loaf Albums

The first time I can remember falling in love with a piece of music was when I heard “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” on the radio. For the last twenty years, because of that, Meat Loaf has been a staple of my listening. His career has had plenty of ups and downs, and albums of wildly varying quality. These are the ones I hold dearest, the ones that show how Meat Loaf never stopped making great music (both with and without the incomperable Jim Steinman).

1. Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell

For many, many years this was my favorite album of all time. It has slipped to #2, but that doesn’t diminish in any way the monolith this album is. It is the very height of overblown pomposity, and is all the better for it. Everything about the album is larger than life, which is why only Meat Loaf could have sung these songs. He and Jim Steinman are a magical partnership, and they were never better than on this collection of songs.

2. Bat Out Of Hell

This is the album everyone remembers, but it’s not as good as its sequel. The title track and “For Crying Out Loud” are brilliant, but the first five minutes of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” is cinge-worthy. The call and response duet is irreplaceable gold, but the slight ding the album takes is enough to put it in the second spot on this list. It’s still brilliant, just not perfect.

3. Couldn’t Have Said It Better

A late-career effort with no songs from Steinman, this is the most surprising album Meat Loaf ever made. He recruited songwriters who tried to copy the best elements of Steinman’s sound, and they did it far better than I would have thought possible. The title track is one of Meat Loaf’s career highlights, made all the better by Patti Russo. There is a horrid pseudo-rap song near the end, but aside from that the album is nearly flawless.

4. Bad Attitude

Meat’s career between the two Bat albums is mostly best left ignored. “Bad Attitude” is the exception, a fantastic album that saw a group of talented songwriters give Meat songs that could stand toe-to-toe with the two Steinman originals presented here. “Surf’s Up” is a powerhouse track, and the non-Steinman songs aren’t far behind. It’s as well-balanced an album as Meat could have hoped to make at the time, and puts to shame the other albums he made during that period.

5. Welcome To The Neighborhood

After the second Bat album had run its course, Meat and Steinman split once again, which made this a questionable album. There were still two Steinman songs present here, but the bulk of the album cam efrom others once again. “I’d Lie For You (And That’s The Truth)” could have fooled anyone into thinking it came from Steinman, and got things off to a rousing start. The album drags with too many ballads at the end, but it showed that Meat had learned how to make a proper album without Steinman leading the way.

There are moments on some of Meat’s other albums that are great, but these are the albums that stand up as whole pieces of work. Later on, when he would sing lines like “I can barely fit my dick in my pants”, I lost faith in someone who was so important to me. There is talk of another Meat/Steinman collaboration being worked on as I write this, which I can only hope will give me one last thrill from two people who have meant so much to my love of music. Even if it doesn’t, at least I have these albums to remind me.

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Five Spot: Top Debut Albums 2010-2014

There’s a constant groaning among anyone who listens to a lot of music that the artists of today aren’t nearly as good as those of whatever time we grew up with.  Fans of every age have said similar things, from the beginnings of rock and roll straight through today.  I understand the psychology of it, because the music from the time when we fell in love with the art will of course remain more firmly entrenched in our hearts and minds.  

I have found myself not necessarily saying the same thing, but feeling it.  While I have never given up on new music, and while there are still albums every year that amaze me and make me remember why I love music, there seem to be fewer and fewer artists that are able to make their mark.  They may produce one album I love, but they cannot consistently prove themselves to be the next big thing.

But in the spirit of optimism about today’s music, I present my top five debut albums of the last five years.

Trillium – Alloy

There aren’t many female fronted metal bands I enjoy, because far too many of them rely on ethereal, operatic vocals, which are not something I enjoy.  Amanda Somerville, who should be familiar to anyone who listens to any amount of melodic metal, due to her guest appearances on many records, put together this project to satisfy those fans who wanted to hear her do a full-on metal album.  “Alloy” was a terrific debut, one that showcased Amanda as a star who had been waiting for her big break.  “Alloy”, I think, was that break.

Trail Of Murder – Shades Of Art

Trail Of Murder is another band featuring a known commodity, former Tad Morose and Bloodbound singer Urban breed.  This record continued Urban’s winning streak, coming on the heels of the criminally under-appreciated genius of “Tabula Rasa” he put out with Bloodbound.  “Shades Of Art” is a chunky melodic metal album with Urban’s powerful voice singing some fantastic melodies.

Bad Salad – Uncivilized

Bad Salad started out as an offshoot of a Dream Theater cover project, and quickly established themselves as one of the best progressive metal bands going.  This album is able to sound a lot like Dream Theater, but does so with a unique spin that allows Bad Salad to project their own identity.  It’s still epic, technically challenging progressive metal, but with a singer and a sound that is able to more fully utilize vocal melodies, which is a trait that makes all the difference.  The fact that they followed up this record with the even better “Puzzled” EP tells me that Bad Salad’s potential is just being realized.

Incura – Incura

Released earlier this year, Incura’s debut album is one of those things that caught me completely off-guard.  They deftly blend hard rock, metal, and theatrical rock into a mix that is highly addictive.  It won’t be for everyone, but there is a fearless abandon that lets these songs do whatever it takes to become unforgettable.

Blues Pills – Blues Pills

The most recent of these releases, Blues Pills’ debut album is one that floored me.  I am not the biggest fan of bluesy rock music, and I’ve found most of the retro revolution to be seriously lacking in the songwriting department, but Blues Pills hit a home run.  The write music that is simple and soulful, and Elin Larsson’s voice is the siren luring me in.  Graveyard is still the leader of the retro pack, but “Blues Pills” is neck and neck with their best material.

The Best Of 2014… So Far

Last year featured what might have been the strongest contingent of great records since I started keeping track of my listening, with a Top Ten packed with records that I still feel as strongly about, even this far removed from writing the list.  I didn’t think it would be possible for this year to approach that level of quality, but I have been shocked to find that this year has been even better, and is easily the best year for music (for me) since I began compiling lists.  There has been plenty of forgettable music that I wish I didn’t hear, but there have been more great records this year than in any other I’ve experienced, and come the end of the year, I’m going to struggle to cut the list down to ten.

Before then, and as an introduction for the blog, I hereby present a few of my favorite records so far this year (in chronological order):

Transatlantic – “Kaleidoscope”

Transatlantic had already established themselves as my favorite prog band, and with “Kaleidoscope” they cemented that status.  The album is as epic as prog can get, boasting two 25+ minute tracks, but even at it’s most indulgent, the band knows how to cram their songs full of so many hooks that the songs never get lost in the music.  It is a stunning piece of work, one that blows me away, no matter how many times I hear it.

Emerson Hart – “Beauty In Disrepair”

Emerson Hart is my favorite songwriter, and he fronts my favorite band.  I’m biased towards his work, but that doesn’t discount the fact that I find “Beauty In Disrepair” to be a fantastic record, filled with the kind of memorably melodic songs that few others can write.  I’m not in the proper place in life to fully relate to the songs, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating them.

Incura – “Incura”

This one caught me off guard, as I blindly listened to it without knowing anything about the band.  What happened is that I was shocked by their blend of hard rock, pop, and musical theater.  The record is an interesting dissection of hard rock tropes, never quite what you expect.  All I know is that it’s great music.

Blues Pills – “Blues Pills”

I had the opportunity to review their “Devil Man” EP last year, but that didn’t prepare me for how much I love this album.  They took the best aspects of their sound, and somehow made the parts I wasn’t keep on match that level.  It’s an album of bluesy hard rock, ripped straight from the olden days.  It’s not normally my kind of music, but they do it so well that I can’t help but be entranced.

Neal Morse – “Songs From November”

Aside from appearing at the start of this list with Transatlantic, Neal Morse has become one of the most important musical figures in my life, so it’s no surprise that his new album makes this list.  Neal has delivered a set of melodic pop songs that is as good as anything he’s ever written (which is saying something), and is exactly the kind of album I wanted to hear from him.  If there was justice in the world of pop music, an album like this would be getting mainstream attention.

So there we have it, a few of my favorite records of the year.  There are more I love just as much, and more will be coming in the remaining months of the year.  In what order they fall remains to be seen.  We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.