From the plaintive tenor and soaring harmonies that open the title track, to the final notes of his cover of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," the new album from Meat Loaf, "Couldn't Have Said it Better," will immediately resonate with any living, breathing fan of rock 'n' roll.
It's the signature sound that most of the world first heard in 1977, with the release of "Bat Out of Hell," Meat Loaf's operatic collaboration with songwriter Jim Steinman. It became the third-highest selling album of all time - 30 million copies worldwide, and counting - on the strength of hits such as "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
The duo's 1993 follow-up, "Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell," went multi-platinum and netted Meat Loaf a Grammy award for Best Rock Vocal, for the song "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)."
Crafting the new release, "Couldn't Have Said it Better" - Meat Loaf's first studio album since the platinum "Welcome to the Neighborhood" in 1996 - he worked with a roster of eclectic artists including three-time Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren, Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, Kevin Griffin from Better Than Ezra and Stephen Trask, composer and lyricist from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Peter Mokran, who has worked with the Backstreet Boys, Brandy, the Flaming Lips, R Kelly, Michael Jackson, Maxwell and 'NSync, produced the album.
Meat Loaf called it the best collaborative effort he's been involved with since the "Bat Out of Hell" albums. Of the end result, he said simply, "I think it's incredible."
In summing up Meat Loaf's staying power and determination, Trask's song "Tear Me Down" on the new album just about nails it. "Everything from Texas is big, larger than life," it says of the Dallas-born singer, "a big man, with a big voice, (who) sings big songs and has big hits."
The latest album took four years to make, not only because Meat Loaf has always taken time to make records - as he noted, "Couldn't Have Said it Better" is only his eighth studio album in 25 years - but because he had to divide his energies between the recording and his burgeoning film career.
"I've always been this big ham, obviously," he said in his 1999 autobiography, "To Hell and Back." He started performing in musicals in high school, ditching baseball for acting and singing - a passion that should be obvious to anyone familiar with his theatrics and stage presence.
He first gained widespread attention as Eddie the brain-dead zombie in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in 1975, reprising the role he originated in the stage production. After resurfacing in bit parts during the '80s and early '90s, including roles in "Wayne's World" and "Leap of Faith," which starred Steve Martin as a charlatan preacher, he decided to dive headlong back into the world of movies, after touring to support "Welcome to the Neighborhood."
"I came off the road in '97 and said, 'I want to go back to acting,' " he said. "I wanted to get back to it because that's how I started, and I was missing it. I never anticipated things would escalate the way they did."
Harnessing talents that traced back to his pre- "Bat Out of Hell" days, when he was performing in everything from "Hair" on Broadway to Joe Papp's Shakespeare in the Park, Meat Loaf embarked on a prodigious run of character parts that continues today. "Spice World," the Spice Girls' theatrical vehicle, with its numerous all-star cameos, to "Focus," based on an Arthur Miller short story, in which Meat Loaf plays the anti-Semitic neighbor of William H. Macy and Laura Dern. He also portrayed a crime boss in "The 51st State" with Samuel L. Jackson (also known as "Formula 51"), a corrupt sheriff in "Crazy in Alabama" with Melanie Griffith, and a dying steroid abuser in "Fight Club."
"I like unusual scripts," he said, and he's found enough that have peaked his interest to land him in more than a dozen movies in the past two years alone.
"I just keep working and learning. I work constantly; I'm a fanatic about it," said Meat Loaf, who now acts under the name Michael Lee Aday. "I'm driven by the creativity."
Born Marvin Lee Aday on Sept. 27, 1947 to a kind, smart schoolteacher and a beefy Dallas cop, Meat Loaf listened to Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Kingston Trio and Mahalia Jackson as a kid. His mother, Wilma, was a preacher's daughter and sang in a local gospel quartet with one of her sisters. His father knew Jack Ruby, and tagged young Marvin with the nickname that would eventually grace 50 million album covers.
After his mother's death from cancer, Meat Loaf left Dallas for good and moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to embark on a music career. He fronted bands that opened for The Who, Joe Cocker and Iggy Pop, and in 1971 recorded an album for Motown, "Stoney and Meat Loaf," dueting with fellow "Hair" cast member Cheryl "Stoney" Murphy. He met Steinman in 1974 while auditioning for the writer's off-Broadway musical, "More Than You Deserve," and the two embarked on a partnership that led to the Wagnerian rock of "Bat Out of Hell."
Unlike some artists, content to regurgitate old hits, Meat Loaf rejects the easy path of nostalgia act, even though he's armed with a catalog of rock radio staples, and a song and performance as iconic as "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
"What drives me is that I've got so much to learn," he said. "You learn something more every day. I'm not in competition with everybody else, but with myself."
Which is not to say he rejects the old songs, but instead - as with his new tunes - he sees each as a mini-drama, another performance to perfect each night. "It's not like I'm doing an old song - that goes back to the actor thing. You get into the moment of it. People say, 'How can you do that every night?' Well, how can you do 'Richard III'?
Even with such a varied and interesting history, Meat Loaf says he prefers to dwell on the future. All the past is good for, he said, is getting you your next opportunity. '
"I'm more interested in tonight's show," he said, adding that he's proud to count himself among the few artists who "barely have enough energy to make it back to the hotel room after the show. They let you have everything they have, and not be phony on stage. I don't hold anything back."
--- from the official Meat Loaf website