What the hell is Nikki Sixx doing writing the title track for a Bat Out of Hell album? The Motley Crüe bassist’s prominent role is the first clue that something is seriously wrong with Meat Loaf’s latest, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. Thanks to a dispute over the Bat trademark, Jim Steinman, the songwriter behind the theatrical excess of the first two Bats, opted not to participate, and the results are disastrous. Undeterred by Steinman’s decision, Meat Loaf includes seven old Steinman songs anyway, five of which had already been recorded by other artists. Just one song, “Bad For Good,” is truly worthy of the Bat Out of Hell moniker. Written by Steinman in 1981 for the original follow-up to Bat I that never was, the song is a welcome flashback to the old days, with jaunty piano and elaborate vocal arrangements that recall classics like “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” Brian May adds guitar and, for seven-and-a-half minutes, it feels like 1977 again.
The other Steinman tracks either aren’t his best work or somehow feel out of place. “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” might be the least necessary remake of all-time. It worked great as a soaring, passionate ballad for Celine Dion in 1996, with Dion playing the role of the abandoned lover, but here Meat Loaf performs it with Marion Raven, whose only qualification seems to be that she’s capable of looking good in a tight dress in the music video. The duet feels forced and unnecessary, Meat Loaf is left awkwardly singing falsetto in places, and—here’s something I never thought I’d say—the song doesn’t compare to the definitive Dion version. Then there’s the horrifying “In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King,” a metal-lite head-scratcher that actually closes with swine noises and which might be the worst song Steinman ever wrote.
The rest of the album is filled with second-rate material like the song written by Nikki Sixx (along with John5 of Marilyn Manson and producer Desmond Child), which only serve to diminish the series’s legacy. The entire notion of a Bat III should have been canned as soon as someone uttered the name Diane Warren, yet here she is, contributing “Cry Over Me,” a tearjerker every bit as sappy as anything she’s written in the past 20 years. Even some of the strongest vocals of Meat Loaf’s career can’t save the song. Child co-wrote the rest of the non-Steinman tracks, most of which are mediocre power ballads trying to masquerade as hard-rock songs, “Blind As A Bat” and “If God Could Talk” being the worst offenders. This almost feels like a posthumous album, the way it was cobbled together with leftovers and scraps of questionable material. In a way, that’s a fitting sentiment, because the Bat Out of Hell series as we know it is officially dead.