By now, almost everyone has seen those nauseating beer commercials. They feature twentysomething slackers with thirtysomething memory banks rattling off their favorite TV shows, cultural artifacts and popular music from the Sixties and Seventies, with nary a receding hairline or beer gut in sight. The worst one to date offers several young fresh fellows on a golf course, creaming in their Bermuda shorts at the mere mention of Frampton Comes Alive!, Fleetwood Mac and Meat Loaf. Forget that these kids were kindergarten fodder long after Meat's 15 minutes of paradise by the dashboard light went dim. To them, and to just about everyone else who followed pop music peripherally, Meat Loaf was deader than Disco Tex and the Sex-o-lettes by the time they were in first grade.

But last year, pop music bore witness to the most unlikely comeback since Lazarus when Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell soared to chart heights even the original Bat Out of Hell never reached. The Loaf has reunited with longtime collaborator Jim Steinman, the man who wrote, produced and arranged the original smash.

That's not to diminish the former album's ongoing, somewhat amazing popularity. Since 1989, people have been buying the original Bat Out of Hell to the tune of a million copies per year, enough to keep it permanently in the upper regions of Billboard's budget-price album chart. The first Bat is estimated to have moved 30 million units worldwide, making it the third-biggest-selling album of all time, just behind Thriller and, oh, Barney's Favorites, maybe?

Perhaps teens and twentysomethings, tired of a steady diet of grunge-of-the-month, were primed for something meaty, beaty and bombastic.

You could have seen it coming. After all, hadn't Queen's nearly-20-year-old "Bohemian Rhapsody," a song that featured so many vocal overdubs that the recording heads reportedly broke off the tape machine, bounced back into the Top 20?

But "Mama mia, let me go" to the operatic histrionics of Meat's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" is not that big a leap. Put on the new Meat Loaf CD, shift the balance on your stereo receiver all the way over to one speaker and you'll still hear more musical personnel at work than were involved in USA for Africa and Band Aid combined.

It's remarkable that an album celebrating pre-British Invasion rock n' roll sensibilities (with Seventies excesses) can be embraced so fervently by a legion of new fans. Certainly, Meat Loaf's original, Rocky Horror following came out in big numbers to buy his latest release. But talk about a disloyal bunch--the Loaf people let 16 years and five follow-ups roll past without ever sending one of them into the Top 40! Maybe they just needed a wake-up call.

Or, more to the point, maybe they needed to be hit over the head with a Roman numeral II!

Meat Loaf, midway through a national tour, has his interview armor firmly in place. He's ready with well-worn, Vince Lombardi-style answers to any question you're likely to ask. Yet given the strict 15 minutes Mr. Loaf is willing to allow for a phone interview, it's rather daunting to realize his response to just one question can last longer than the average Jim Steinman song.

But there's one question that demands an answer--what's up with the name of this new release? Isn't Meat Loaf painting himself into a hellish artistic corner by titling this new recording Bat Out of Hell II?

"We named the album Bat Out of Hell II because we weren't Fleetwood Mac," explains the Loaf, long distance from Connecticut. "Did Fleetwood Mac paint themselves into a corner by calling all their albums Fleetwood Mac? How about Bruce Springsteen? Did he paint himself in a corner by calling himself Bruce Springsteen?" Huh?

"If Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac got back together, they're not gonna change their name to the Bubble Puppy," Loaf reasons. "They're gonna be called Fleetwood Mac. And nobody would say anything about it. The only way of describing that it's Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman is to call it Bat Out of Hell II."
Well, they could've called it Dead Ringer II, after 1981's disappointing follow-up to Bat Out of Hell. Dead Ringer was the last time the pair collaborated, although Steinman bolted midway through the sessions and slapped his former fatty front man with a lawsuit. So acrimonious was their split that the "Songs by Jim Steinman" credit, so prominently displayed on Bat Out of Hell's front cover, was buried in a list of credits on Dead Ringer's dust sleeve. What really happened would probably make a better story line for a concept album than the rock n' roll Peter Pan themes that fuel the Bat albums.

Meat Loaf, unable to control the direction of the proposed Bat follow-up, faked losing his voice. Steinman, frustrated by the demons plaguing his portly partner, released the Bad for Good album in 1981 under his own name. Steinman nearly pulled off his Loafish impersonation, except for those moments that required bellowing low notes. Then he sounded more like Bobby Sherman being sucker-punched.

Meat Loaf fared no better on his own, having eventually lost his voice for real, as well as Steinman's production services. When Loaf's voice returned, it sounded as if it had lost some bottom, as if he were now Harry Chapin hyperventilating. Duets with Cher didn't help in the rock-credibility department, either. In Britain, the follow-up album rose to No. 1, and Meat Loaf's European popularity continued unabated. But back in the States, Dead Ringer became synonymous with "flop."

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