You Again?: Meat Loaf, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”

Here’s everything you need to know about the record business in 2010: It contains a not-inconsiderable number of people who thought you needed to hear a Meat Loaf concept album about the visions of a dying soldier who is seeing glimpses of his possible future lives.

Oh, and it’s called Hang Cool Teddy Bear.

And it’s 65 minutes long.

This is what happens when you’re a once-mighty star in a dying industry — people will write you checks just so they can put your name on a piece of product, no matter how asinine it is, in the hopes of refracting one of the last fading rays of your former glory. Of course, the labels have been pumping out shit for as long as there have been labels, but in the old days, they did it because they knew there was so much money in the marketplace that something like Having Fun with Elvis on Stage would turn a profit. These days, they do it because they’re desperate.

In fact, everything about Hang Cool Teddy Bear reeks of desperation, from the album artwork to the frantically overstuffed arrangements of the songs, which scale ever-higher, ever-more-rickety heights of thunderous idiocy in their quest to distract you from the fact that they barely exist. Meat’s voice is shot, which is fitting, because he doesn’t have anything to say.

What he does have is a budget healthy enough to attract plenty of studio ringers, from producer Rob Cavallo (who should have declared a career moratorium on concept albums after American Idiot) to House star Hugh Laurie, who contributes piano to the Kara DioGuardi duet “If I Can’t Have You.” Teddy Bear doesn’t boast the booklet-bloating cast that Meat drafted for Bat Out of Hell III four years ago, but it still includes the talents of a bewildering array of people who should have known better, including bassist Kasim Sulton and ace guitarists Brian May, Steve Vai, and Tim Pierce. Justin Hawkins, the helium-lunged former frontman of the Darkness, added backing vocals and co-wrote some of the songs, but the sense of melody that grounded his flamboyance is gone. About the only name in the liner notes that makes sense is Jack Black, who duets with Loaf on the middle-aged metal shouter “Like a Rose.” He’s a talented singer, but anytime you see his name, you feel like you should laugh, and that’s an improvement over what I felt like doing for most of the rest of the time I listened to Hang Cool Teddy Bear.

Look, it’s a Meat Loaf record. You know what to expect: Loud songs with lots of layers, that go on for longer than they should, with titles that make excessive use of parentheses. But from the opening moments of the first track, “Peace on Earth,” you know something is wrong — it starts off with a series of thudding, slamming noises, like Meat stumbling to the fridge at 3:30 in the morning, before exploding with what sounds like the sound of every session musician in the L.A. metro area. Strings! Guitars! Piano! Pounding drums! Everything but a real melody! It tries hard to replicate old-fashioned Meat Loaf theatrics, with changeups galore, guitar solos that redefine wankery, and bloated gospel shouting, but there’s literally no song to hold all the noise together. Every time the tempo shifts, it feels like you’re listening to someone kick a tape player. And the second track, “Living on the Outside,” gains nothing by being more straightforward; piled high with phony drama, it sounds like Springsteen being done by someone who wants to kill Springsteen. By the time it’s over, you just wish Meat would stop yelling.

But then he does, on “Los Angeloser,” and you remember to be careful what you wish for, because oh God he’s rapping, and there’s scratching and drum machines and a spoken-word breakdown, and the only way the world seems fair is if you hope against hope that Meat wanted this song to be funny and simply ended up missing the mark somewhere along the way.

In contrast, the aforementioned “If I Can’t Have You” is actually enjoyable, in its own limited fashion; it at least has a decent melody, courtesy of DioGuardi and her co-writers, Paul Freeman and Raine Maida. Also, it isn’t over seven minutes long and it doesn’t require Meat’s voice to do any heavy lifting, unlike “Love Is Not Real,” which couldn’t expose the 62-year-old Loaf’s vocals any more cruelly if it pantsed them in church. It’s hard to decide which is worse — that or “Did You Ever Love Somebody,” in which Meat sounds like he’s dying, but not quickly enough.

And on and on it lumbers, a Frankenstein monster of bombast, so bloated beyond sensible length that it makes room for a song as punishingly dumb as “California Isn’t Big Enough for Me,” henceforth known as “the song where Meat Loaf screams ‘I can barely fit my dick in my pants.'” Of all the albums to be an hour and five minutes long, why Hang Cool Teddy Bear? Because Bat Out of Hell has sold more than 40 million copies, that’s why, and no matter how thoroughly Meat’s muse deserts him or how embarrassingly he flails around trying to catch your attention, there’s always going to be someone with money to burn and the knowledge that slapping the Meat Loaf logo on top of a painted album cover will move a few units. With that kind of name value and a steady touring draw, who needs to worry about whether or not the new material is any good? Sometimes, two out of three is pretty fucking awful.

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  • dslifton

    Jeff Giles: listening to albums so we don't have to.

  • dslifton

    Jeff Giles: listening to albums so we don't have to.

  • Thierry Côté

    Meat Loaf: now singing like a hammier, slightly more tuneful William Shatner.

    Sadly, I suspect that a song like “Los Angeloser” could be a hit on country radio…

  • steed

    I probably shouldn't say this with a couple of reviews up myself right now – as I'm surely about to discredit everything I write about – but I kind of dig “Los Angeloser”. In fact, no – I really like it.

    (And hence, I'm that guy that's going to get suckered in to buying a new Meat Loaf record)

  • jefito

    I can't talk to you when you're like this, Steed.

  • jack

    I am a listener of Meat Loaf like I'm a listener of Styx: Completely passively. I don't own any Meat Loaf albums, but I know the tunes on the radio when I hear them. Thus, I can only compare “Los Angeloser” to the other staples of Meat Loaf's career, and I have to say this one does not offend or entice me any more than “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)” as a piece of art or music. Lyrically, it makes as much sense as the aforementioned song too. The video is incomprehensible too. Is he Satan? Why the female dancing police? As a dream a wounded soldier is having in a hospital, it's no “Johnny Got His Gun.”

  • georgemassouris

    don't you think your getting ahead of yourself a little….calm down….i'm no fan of meat loaf but i though this was okay for him..give it another spin.

  • DwDunphy

    I heard him on last Saturday's Weekend Edition on NPR. I went from mildly hopeful (upon hearing Meat say he wanted to “stretch out”) to sanguine (upon hearing that album title) to downright disappointed (after a snippet featuring the song with Jack Black.)

    For all the feuding he did with Jim Steinman, this record seems to make Steinman look really good.

  • JdW3b

    I love the album.

  • matt

    this album fucking rocks, your review is your review, but I have a completely opposite opinion and think it is one of his most diverse interesting and good sounding albums in a long time, cheers buddy


  • Carole

    Well I think this album totall rocks!!!!!! It is one of Meat's best albums. I have been a fan for 30 years and think he just keeps getting better and better. His voice is better than ever, so powerful and passionate. He puts his whole heart and soul into it, and it shows.

  • Dave

    I've been a Meat fan since Bat Out of Hell, but I have to agree with this review. Hang Cool Teddy Bear wouldn't recognize a melody of it got hit on the head by one, which coincidentally is what the album sounds like.

  • Mark Snider

    Since you seemed to have a predetermined hatred for all things Meat Loaf, then why even bother listening to the album. You had obviously decided you didn't like before the first track even started. I for one have heard the album and think that it is some of Meat Loaf's best work to date. Oh, and as far as his vocal, you must be hearing something that I am not because they are great on this album. To finish up i'll take the last line of your piece, the only thing pretty fucking awful here is this piss poor excuse for a music review.

    For anyone that wants to read a legitimate review about this album you can do it hear:

  • Rage Against

    Jeff Giles, A Man Who Should Not Be Reviewing Albums In An Industry He Says Is Dying…

  • jefito

    Who said anything about the Beastie Boys?

  • JG

    Who is Jeff Giles? What does he know about music? How many albums has he sold? Why is he so upset about or at Meat Loaf? Why does he think any Beastie Boys album deserves 5 stars?

    The internet allows any ignorant to pretend they have some knowledge. Most of the time they are compensating for something.

  • EightE1

    Yeah, Jeff, you deaf fuck! What the hell is wrong with you? Can't you hear the obvious genius at play here? Meat's voice isn't shot — it's camouflaged! He's playing the role of a man in the studio trying to sound like a man who's trying to sound like a flatulent man who sounds suspiciously like a slowed-down, hoarse version of Dead Ringer-era Meat Loaf. And he plays the part PERFECTLY! Just ask any of the Meat Loaf Fan Club members who have commented in the last 48 hours. THEY know what's music and what ain't.

    And it's got Hugh-friggin'-Laurie on PIANO! Roy Bittan was apparently unavailable, so who's the obvious second choice? That's right — Hugh-friggin' Laurie.

    The ONLY thing you got right wuz the slamming, thudding noises in “Peace on Earth” — TOTALLY Meat stumbling to the fridge at 3:30 in the morning. It's a shame they cut off the awesome sound of him gnawing a giant turkey leg right down to the fucking bone, slurping up the juiciness while humming “Life is a Lemon (and I Want My Money Back)” while in some sort of tryptophan-induced fever dream. I'll bet JG has a bootleg of that.

    So, yeah, pal, don't ever review albums by artistes 35 years past their prime unless you're ready to slurp at their trough, buddy. Or incur the wrath of the TRUE music lovers out there.

    Hang cool …

  • jefito

    Odds are I've probably sold more albums than you, JG, although that isn't even close to important. And who said anything about the Beastie Boys?

  • Fleetray

    I know who Meatloaf is, but who the f*** is Jeff Giles?
    Are they short of Big Issue sellers?
    What a knobhead.

  • Shane O"

    well..J Giles
    What did you expect?, U cut everything, songs, album/cover ahhhh…., the other artists that helped……..So PLS be honest what do you really think…Prick… And I mean that with deepest respect. First of all Your cutting him up for his age/ trying new things……Ok don't really want to Picture a 67 yr old mans dick, man thnks for pointing that out to us. Now here's a thought for you ..close your eyes and Picture a story… music playing, A young man looking at a lot of women….and well… u figure it out. Next Los angloser… Ya….he was being funny, Look at the video.. and the rest of the songs close your eyes and get an amagination…………..IT's for…………………. Meatloaf could retire he doesn't need the money…..If a singer really enjoys making Fans happy….after he made his money….they continue to play. I thought Bat 3 was it for him…Hang cool teddy bear is just fun….., Loud, first Meatloaf album to have Perental advisory….cool. Any way all said and done I enjoyed it and thats all that MATTERS THKS MEATloaf.

  • dslifton

    I never thought I'd say this, but, having heard the album, I almost wish Meat Loaf would work with Jim Steinman again.

  • CowboyCullen

    Let me get this out in the open before I begin. I have never been a fan of Meat Loaf. For such a legend of rock, I found his music incredibly tame, and bordering on quite sappy and bland. He was just an artist I didn’t get. Popular? Undeniable. To my tastes? Barely, which is why his new release, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” came as such a surprise to me. It is actually really good.
    “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” is apparently the start of a new series of albums, like his previous “Bat Out Of Hell” trilogy. This time it deals with a wounded soldier’s visions of future lives he could have lived. Produced by Rob Cavello, the producer who gave Green Day their first steps into the realm of the concept album with American Idiot, this album sounds great. One problem I had with listening to older Meat Loaf was that for all the intended bombast, it never really came across due to incredibly flat and dull production. This is honestly not the case here. Sweeping orchestras, soaring choirs all back up the core, classic rock line up of guitar, bass, piano, drums and vocals. But that’s the main point, it doesn’t wash the rock into the background. Finally, the guitar track is actually audible on a Meat Loaf release!

    I don’t know whether it will apply to rest of the series, but this first release filled with celebrity appearances. Justin Hawkins (most famously of The Darkness) turns up co-writing some of the songs and singing backup, Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the final track of the album, and Steve Vai and Brian May both play lead guitar on a couple of the tracks. After playing Meat Loaf’s son in the movie “Pick Of Destiny”, Jack Black lends his backing vocals to a track, an American Idol judge sings a duet with Mr. Loaf and, craziest of all, the multitalented Hugh Laurie appears to lend his piano chops to the already star studded “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”.

    This is of course forgetting the real star of the show, Meat Loaf himself. He may be getting on in years, but it hasn’t done his voice any harm. If anything, it’s added more of an edge. Meat Loaf’s voice is still flying high like you’d expect, but he’s gained a growl, a gruffer edge, and it really works for him. This isn’t the vocal of an aging rocker, this is the vocal at the peak of maturity. It’s very lucky that he is still so good because he is taking on quite an eclectic mix of styles here. He runs the gauntlet from waltzing power ballads to hip-hop influenced rockabilly, screaming blues-rock to prog-heavy metal. It is actually kind of amazing that so many songwriters writing so many styles could produce such a cohesive album. Each track flows really well to the next, despite only being linked by this overarching concept of a soldier’s visions, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way. This isn’t story album, it’s a collection of interlinked tracks and gladly they do manage to link.

    This album has managed to convert me. Ok, you still won’t find “I Would Do Anything For Love” on my iPod, but I have had a great time with “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”. Meat Loaf’s consistently strong vocal is finally backed up by great songwriters, high-class production and star musicians, offering the backing that Meat Loaf has always deserved. Occasionally it’s a little corny, but it’s all part of the fun, and it wouldn’t be Meat Loaf without it. Lets just say I’m definitely keeping my eye out for “Hang Cool Teddy Bear II”


  • Mel

    Lol omg, dude, sorry Jeff is it? Who do you think you are?

    Meat rocks and there must be something wrong with your ears, his voice shot? Its far from it! Its the strongest and best its been in years! I wholeheartedly DO NOT agree with ANYTHING in your ahem…. review?

  • Witchyone67

    I love this cd