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POP BEAT

Make Way for Meat Loaf : After 16 years, the slimmed-down rock singer finds another hit on his hands with the 'Back to Hell' album.

September 25, 1993|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Mr. Loaf at your service," bellows Meat Loaf, the good-natured rocker whose career is surging again--just like, as he puts it, a bat out of hell.

He's bursting with confidence, the result of having his new album enter the Billboard pop chart this week at No. 3--quite an achievement for someone who went 16 years between hits.

In fact, his chances of another best-seller after all this time were considered so remote that some wise guys called him "Dead Meat."

No longer.

With his powerful tenor and writer-producer Jim Steins grandiose production, the new MCA album--titled "Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell"--is a flamboyant mix of rock and sweeping operatic touches--just like the original "Bat Out of Hell," which has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, it is claimed.

They don't call Meat Loaf the Pavarotti of rock for nothing. That nickname used to refer to his girth, but now there's much less of Loaf since he shed about 80 pounds off his old 310-pound frame.

"I'm finally back and a bit smaller too," says the 42-year-old Texas native, whose real name is Marvin Aday. "But it's been a hell of a long winding road back."

Part of the road, he says, did wind through a sort of psychological hell. After the "Bat" album and a key role in the 1978 movie "Roadie," his cdailyareer and personal life turned sour. His follow-up album, 1981's "Dead Ringer," only etreached No. 45 on the charts.

It was around that time, he says, that he suffered a todnervous breakdown.

"I was an angry, violent guy who was out of control,mo" he recalls, speaking easily about the troubled times. "I didn't know how to deal with beicang popular. I didn't know how to deal with a lot of things. I just fell apart."

Solving his personal problems proved to be easier than resurrecting his career. Since "Roadie," his film career has been reduced to a trickle of bit parts in movies such as "Wayne's World" and "Leap of Faith." A 1985 album, "Bad Attitude," stalled at No. 74. His 1987 album, "Blind Before I Stop," wasn't even released in the U.S.

Meat Loaf traces some of his musical problems to his split in 1981 with Steinman, his musical alter-ego. Vague about the details of the breakup, Meat Loaf mostly blames outside forces.

"We were being pulled in opposite directions," he says. "I was going through all these personal and financial problems at the time, which didn't help. It was an extremely ugly situation."

Steinman wrote the songs for "Dead Ringer," but he didn't produce the album, which ended up a pale shadow of "Bat." Though they patched up their differences in 1985, the pair didn't get any interest from American labels until Al Teller, the chairman of MCA Music Entertainment Group, personally signed them to a deal in 1989. It took all this time to make the record.

"Jimmy works very, very slowly and I went through a management change again that really delayed things," Meat Loaf explains. "I've been anxious about getting this album done for the last few years."

Now that it's finally out, he can't really relax because he's on a national tour. The instant acceptance of "Bat II" should translate into added dates in larger venues.

"Bat II" has benefited from Meat Loaf's constant touring in clubs and colleges since the late '80s, as well as the popularity of classic rock stations, which have helped rekindle interest in the original album, which in the '90s has been one of the biggest-selling "oldies" albums. But Meat Loaf bristles at the suggestion that the new album is merely of interest to aging rock fans.

"There's a young audience for it too," he says. "I've been working hard to build that up in the last few years. They really like my voice."

Though his trademark tenor sounds trained, Meat Loaf insists it isn't--just honed by working in theatrical productions in New York and playing rock clubs, with pal Steinman backing him on piano, through the mid-'70s. That exposure in the New York scene led to an Epic Records contract and the original "Bat."

Very contented these days, Meat Loaf is married with two children, living in a small town near New Haven, Conn. In any interview with him, there's a point where the inevitable question arises--about the origin of that nickname.

"I've been called Meat Loaf since I was a kid growing up in Dallas," he says. "In school my teachers called me Meat."

But even now, he's ambivalent about the name.

"There are some mornings that I wake up and say: 'I can't believe I'm called Meat Loaf,' he chuckles. "But then I say, 'Awww, what the hell'--and just put it out of my mind."

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