Rekindling their erstwhile, long-running creative partnership, 'Braver Than We Are' is the first collaboration, for many years, between stalwart rocker Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman, both legends in their own right. Offering up a diachrony of Steinman's compositional history, songs have been drawn from his songwriting pool that spans, I believe, five decades now, including the first and most recent tracks the man's written. Pre-listening expectations are that it pertains to changing stylistic trends. Wrong. While there are glimpses and nods to their previous work, what the two men have delivered not only eschews current and ephemerally fleeting trends of the past few decades, but exercises sonically subversive idioms and perversely conceived art in the most refreshing of ways, that's sure to confound most of your expectations.
A pleasingly diverse album that's characterised by contrasts both between and within songs, ''Braver Than We Are' opens with five and a half minutes of pure musical delirium. 'Who Needs the Young' is, apparently, the first song Steinman ever wrote, which is astonishing considering it successfully swerves both trends of yore and today. Temporarily lulling the listener into a false sense of familiarity with an opening blues riff, it swiftly gives way to what can only be described as bursts of euphoric carnivalesque, with a perversely deranged and prog-edged musical number. This is fucking great stuff, and deliriously good fun!
How do you follow an album opener like that? With one of the most epically conceived songs ever to be delivered by the Meat/Steinman partnership, of course. Clocking in at eleven and a half minutes, 'Going All the Way is Just the Start' sees Meat reunited with Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito, both formerly of 'Paradise By the Dashboard Light' fame... and this song is nothing short of majestic. Featuring hideously catchy refrains, huge, sweeping melodies, and commanding vocal performances, it's an emotionally powerful piece that successfully fuses power ballad, rock, prog, and refined theatrics. And Meat's voice sounds fantastic on this track, as it does throughout the entire album. While falling short of his erstwhile histrionics and wider range that's characterised much of his earlier work, he evidently sings to his strengths here, generally in a lower register, with a maturity and wisdom discernible in the richly resonant tones of his controlled vibrato.
I'll not succumb to a track-by-track review, as the album needs to be heard for yourself, for the surprises it holds throughout, including a beautifully written, arranged and performed gospel-infused ballad, 'Speaking in Tongues'; and the heavier-edged stomp of 'Godz'. A cover of The Sisters of Mercy's 'More' is even thrown into the mix, but said band's frontman, Andrew Eldritch, co-wrote the track with Steinman, so it still fits with the aesthetic and spirit of the album... and, it's well-suited to Meat's voice, so a wise choice. Also, there's a cheeky nod to another of Steinman's previous compositions - namely, Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' - in 'Skull of Your Country', where repetition of "Turn Around", melodically identical to Tyler's hit (sung here by Cian Coey), is interposed by the delivery of Meat's lines. A tad cheeky, or Steinman pastiching his own work for the purposes of compositional intertextuality? I guess it matters little, as it works a treat.
A word, too, about The Neverland Express, Meat's backing band, who are responsible for bringing Steinman's instrumentations to life with some magnificent performances. Versatile in their talents, this is a fine bunch of musicians, and have succeeded in fleshing out each of the compositions with musically majestic prowess. And mixed, produced and engineered by Paul Crook, everything sounds fantastic, albeit... and this is the only minor flaw I can identify with the album... Meat's voice is occasionally a little too high in the mix... just a little, mind.
Basically, forget any preconceptions you might have of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman as 'Braver Than We Are' is an album that's guaranteed to astound, confound and delight in equal measure, with its subversively conceived slices of theatrically-charged rock musical resplendence.
BRAVER THAN WE ARE
Review by Mark Holmes
9th Sept 2016
1) Who Needs the Young
2) Going All the Way is Just the Start
3) Speaking in Tongues
4) Loving You is a Dirty Job
6) Only When I Feel
9) Skull of Your Country
10) Train of Love
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...an album that's guaranteed to astound, confound and delight in equal measure, with its subversively conceived slices of theatrically-charged rock musical resplendence."