Back from the brink

After his last foray into Hell, Meat Loaf pretty much felt like his lengthy career had lost its wings.

Meat Loaf in Toronto recently. After decades of being known for his Bat Out of Hell successes

Meat Loaf in Toronto recently. After decades of being known for his Bat Out of Hell successes

TORONTO — After his last foray into Hell, Meat Loaf pretty much felt like his lengthy career had lost its wings.

His 2006 release, Bat Out of Hell 3, was borne from tumultuous sessions during which the Dallas singer felt that he was being manipulated by his producer and record label. The record was also the subject of a nasty legal dispute between Meat Loaf and his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman.

While it opened in the Top 10 on the charts, the record didn’t stay there long. Even worse, Meat Loaf didn’t necessarily believe in the tunes with the same zeal he applied to much of his catalogue.

He had health issues. He was unhappy. And, in 2007, he famously announced his retirement while onstage in Newcastle.

At the time, he meant it.

“I thought it was over,” the 62-year-old told The Canadian Press during a recent interview at a Toronto hotel.

“It was awful, it was awful. It was the worst period in my career.”

After three-plus decades and worldwide album sales well into the eight digits, Meat Loaf says he felt ready to leave music behind.

The first idea the despondent singer had for the next phase of his life almost sounds like a punchline now.

“I was getting ready to sell my house and move (to California) so I could open up a Jimmy John’s,” he explained, referring to the American fast-food sandwich chain.

“I was going to try to get a whole regional section, but I was going to start with one, and that was going to be what I was going to do: I was going to open up Jimmy John’s.

“But I was so depressed, after a while, even my Jimmy John’s thing, I couldn’t get the energy to do anything with that. And then, all of a sudden, I just got up and went . . . this,” said the animated singer, using an explicit four-letter word and repeating the phrase.

“I’ll show ’em.”

Four years after the third Bat and Meat Loaf is back with Hang Cool Teddy Bear, a collection of typically over-the-top theatrical rock tunes.

The nearly seven-minute opening track, Peace on Earth, introduces all the elements Meat Loaf aimed for this time out: a flurry of pounding guitars, impossibly overblown vocals and thunderous drums.

Fans of Meat’s tender side will have to look elsewhere.

“If you liked (my other albums) because you wanted to hear all the ballads, forget it,” he blustered. “If you liked the rockier side of me — which I think most people do — then you’re going to absolutely fall in love with this.”

Meat Loaf certainly has. He calls his new record “the most important” of his career. He’s careful not to say it’s the “best,” out of respect, he says, for the first megasuccessful Bat Out of Hell.

But he says the two records are “in the same ballpark.”

“Maybe Hang Cool Teddy Bear is in the bullpen and Bat Out of Hell is on the pitcher’s mound, waving.”

He says Bat Out of Hell 3 failed largely because the characters he inhabited on the record’s lyrics were undefined (“it was a bad script,” he says).

He credits producer Rob Cavallo (the Warner executive responsible for signing and producing Green Day) with sharpening his focus this time out.

The record’s central character is a dying soldier whose life flashes forward instead of backwards as he takes his final breaths.

He intentionally didn’t tell the record’s slate of guest writers (including Canadian Raine Maida, Jon Bon Jovi and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi) about the overarching theme because he didn’t want “a bunch of dead soldier stories.”

Perhaps as a result, the high-minded concept isn’t completely obvious in listening to the record’s freewheeling tunes.

First single Los Angeloser begins with a DJ scratching a record and Meat Loaf hollering “I’m just a white boy/ I play the guitar” over a strummed acoustic, while the chorus of California Isn’t Big Enough finds the singer howling about his groin with an irrepressible conviction.

If the off-colour reference offends his fans? Too bad, he says.

“I read something on Amazon: ‘No Meat Loaf record has ever reverted to swear words before, I can’t believe that he would actually do that,”’ he said. “I just went: ‘Lady, I love ya, but you’re stuck in a time warp.’ What we say on this record, compared to what you could find on any movie channel or any movie, we’re in kindergarten over here. We haven’t even got to the fifth grade yet.

“We’re on that cartoon MTV used to have, Beavis and Butthead. That’s where we are.

“Whenever I’ve tried to turn the corner or change, record companies always come back in going ‘no, no,”’ he said. “They always want to call it Bat Out of Hell.

“This album would have been Bat Out of Hell 11 if a record company had their way. I would have more of these than the Police Academy (movies).”

But he thinks Hang Cool Teddy Bear does, in fact, represent a turning point.