For about the last 25 years, I’ve been a Meat Loaf fan. While my opinion of his musical prowess will never change, I find myself viewing his work in the categories of with and without legendary songwriter, Jim Steinman.
You may assume that I dislike his non-Steinman collaborated works, but that couldn’t be further from the truth as I class Meat Loaf's 1995 album, Welcome To The Neighbourhood to be amongst his greatest achievements as a musician. Granted, Steinman penned two tracks on that album, but for the most part, it was Meat Loaf selecting songs from a variety of songwriters.
While Hang Cool Teddy Bear is compiled with a who’s who of the recording industry, the album feels disjointed with a number of songs that are simply mismatched to Meat Loaf's vocal style. That isn't to say the album is bad, just that it fails to live up to expectations. Nevertheless, let's take a look at the songs, the album and how this release fits into Meat Loaf's career.
Peace On Earth is a terrible song to commence the album with. It is overproduced and the sonic introduction is largely pointless while the tempo is too upbeat for Meat Loaf. On this track, along with track 2, Living On The Outside, it sounds as though Meat Loaf was inspired to merge his lyrical style with that of Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. It simply doesn't work, although I do enjoy the chorus lines throughout Peace On Earth.
Living On The Outside isn't a bad rock song and would have been much better suited as the lead track. It’s catchy, with a solid rhythm, while not being as alien to Meat Loaf's style as Peace On Earth is.
Los Angeloser has an incredible beat and rhythm. You will be toe tapping and head bopping from the first minute. Thank you, James Michael, for writing yet another incredible song.
If I Can't Have You had potential but the mix is too muddy. It could have been another I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won‘t Do That), but the dynamics are so squashed that the backing vocals and Hugh Laurie's piano elements are barely discernible throughout much of the song.
Love Is Not Real/Next Time You Stab Me In The Back has a really enjoyable drum and guitar backbeat and the Brian May and Steve Vai intermingling guitar solo is out of this world. Despite being mastered too loud, this song, in particular, sounds superb thereby proving that all distortion and a squashed dynamic range does not always result in a negative outcome. Sometimes it suits the tone and style of the song perfectly. That doesn’t mean it is applicable to all songs. It should be added selectively, not as a standard in the mastering and mixing process.
Like A Rose is a great track. Jack Black really adds some vocal attitude to the song and overall it has an incredibly addictive rhythmic beat and a gorgeous, albeit concealed guitar track. Like A Rose is one of the best songs on Hang Cool Teddy Bear and is one of my all-time favourite Meat Loaf tracks.
Song Of Madness features Steve Vai for the second time. The entire song is excellent and worthy of inclusion in Meat Loaf's catalogue. Even Meat Leaf pushes his vocals beautifully in this song with his signature smooth highs and guttural lows. Turn this song up to 11, you'll thank me later.
Did You Ever Love Somebody slows the album down a little, although I'm not keen on Meat Loaf's vocal style in this song. While the song isn't a ballad, as such, Meat Loaf's ballad tones are generally more polished than they appear here as it sounds as though he didn't have his full range available to him during the recording of the song.
California Isn't Big Enough (Hey There Girl) is a mixed bag of musicality that I enjoy, but I find it confusing at the same time. It’s a rock song, with 80s synth elements, amongst a cascade of other styles. Think Tears For Fears meets Meat Loaf. It grows on you, but I wouldn’t call it a standout.
Running Away From Me is a classic B-side, but I like it!
Let's Be In Love isn't a bad song, but it’s made significantly better thanks to Patti Russo. Again, Meat Loaf's vocal presence feels lacklustre, especially in the quiet passages. In comparison, Russo's Vocal takes the song to another level. It’s disappointing that Russo doesn’t enter the song until around the midway point of the song.
If It Rains is a great song but I think I would like to hear it get the Kid Rock treatment as it lacks a little edge and the tempo could be a few beats faster. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy this song.
Elvis In Vegas is adequate for a closing song. That said, as the song was penned by Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Billy Falcon, I’d love to hear Bon Jovi record the song as it definitely has their sonic cues. Regardless, and despite the hot mastering, Elvis In Vegas compels me to listen to the album again and stay within Meat Loaf's catalogue.
Overall, Hang Cool Teddy Bear is a solid release but is far from classic Meat Leaf. That said, the album does grow on you the more you listen to it.
This review has been based off listening to the CD release (cat: 273 4097) of the album.
As mentioned throughout the review, Hang Cool Teddy Bear has been recorded, mixed, and mastered far too loudly. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I want to control my volume and I see absolutely no reason for the constant redlining of music. At no time do I feel enveloped by sound as the music is clearly coming from my speakers. The result is a lack of soundstage and true stereo separation.
The artwork is, as always with a Meat Loaf release, stunning. Although, that starts and ends with the cover art. The rear of the CD terribly laid out. Yes, the producer is important, but why is his name so prominent while the song titles are presented as if they were footnotes?
The liner notes booklet is similarly plain with a font too small to be easily read. I’d like to say the vinyl release would solve this problem, but I can't begin to tell you just how many vinyl releases also get typography wrong. No wonder I tend to ignore lyrical meaning!
While it is possible the vinyl release may improve on the harsh and limited dynamic range heard on the CD, Hang Cool Teddy Bear was only released on vinyl for a limited run, resulting in it now being out-of-print and costing far more on the secondhand market than it should.
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