Thursday, January 22, 2009


So this morning on the way to work I was listening to The Essential Bruce Springsteen, because...well, I don't know exactly why. Every time I see the guy lately, he pisses me off, whether it's his passing-a-peach-pit vocals, or his requiem-for-the-workin'-man schtick in both lyrics and interviews, or his dirgey songwriting ("The Rising" is not a rock 'n' roll song, it's a death march). But even though the only albums I've ever listened to all the way through were Nebraska, Darkness On the Edge of Town and Born in the U.S.A., and that was over 20 years ago, I had a pretty strong recollection that he wasn't always that way. So, obtained the aforementioned three-CD compilation (cause if you're gonna do something, do it all the way, even when it's costing you nothing but time) and started at the beginning. And I got past the fake-Dylan stuff from the first couple of albums with no permanent injuries, even liking little bits here and there (like the Elvis-Costello-and-the-Attractions-esque keyboard sound on "For You"). But when I hit the songs from Born To Run, something weird happened...I suddenlly developed an irresistible urge to listen to Meat Loaf.

They both made the same kind of overwrought rock-as-opera-as-six-foot-tall-cheesecake, to the point that the parallels became almost disturbing. Listen to "Bat Out of Hell" (the song) and "Jungleland" and tell me they're not the same thing - hell, the piano parts are almost identical. So now, this afternoon, I'm listening to Bat Out of Hell all the way through for the first time ever. And I think I like it better than Springsteen, if only because Meat Loaf (or Jim Steinman, whatever) never gets to thinking he's John Dos Passos or Tom Kromer.

But maybe it's just that I'm in a mood for pomptastic cheese-rock lately. Another recent acquisition was The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings, an anthology of the first four Styx albums, before anybody was paying attention to them and when they were still trying to decide whether to be a Midwestern hard rock band or to fully indulge Dennis DeYoung's dreams of Broadway glory. Those albums (Styx, Styx II, The Serpent is Rising and Man of Miracles) are not nearly as horrible as their later stuff. In fact, there are songs on them that are firmly in the tradition of early '70s American progressive hard rock, when bands were attempting to tread a middle ground between caveman blooze-rawk (Grand Funk Railroad, Cactus, etc.) and the more intricate prog stuff coming from the UK (Yes, ELP, Genesis). There are some riffs - and organ tones - on The Serpent is Rising that fans of everything from Deep Purple to Atomic Rooster would find very pleasing indeed. Sure, there's some crap, too, but these albums shouldn't be dismissed, particularly the debut, which is damn heavy at times.

Styx: Not The Worst Band Ever, At Least Not Early On.


Tony Renner said...

i had a similar experience in re: meat loaf the other day... somebody put on "bat out of hell" in the store i work at and i was astounded at how much it sounded like "born to run" era springsteen... and how much i liked it here in the 21st century... at the time, i viewed mr. loaf as someone trying to still the thunder of an "authentic" artist...

-- tony

Steve M. said...

Jon Landau brought out Springsteen's worst instincts, first by writing that overwrought "rock and roll future" review, then as Springsteen's producer. Springsteen was just way too willing to be persuaded that he's an artiste, a poet, a political commentator. And after that, all his fans (journos and civilians alike) just reinforced the message.

Whereas Jim Steinman just goes out there and lets himself look ridiculous -- this, after all, is a guy who once wrote a song called "You've Got To Love Me With The Sun In Your Eyes Until The Day That You Go Blind." It's not that he takes himself less seriously than Brooooce, it's that he's clearly seen more monster movies and read fewer books published by Verso. And so, yeah, Bat Out of Hell seems less embarrassing now than "mature"-period Springsteen. (But you're right about the stylistic resemblance.)