One of Jim Steinman’s favorite lyrical devices was to use an idiom or cliche and expand on its meaning. The first example of him doing it is “For Crying out Loud,” which is using the phrase in both its typical meaning of an expression of exasperation and also its literal meaning of “for the fact that you cry aloud.” So, is it any surprise that Bad for Good‘s equivalent of “For Crying out Loud” would be similar?
“Left in the Dark” is an intensely sad song from the perspective of a victim of infidelity based on using the phrase “left in the dark” to mean bereft of information, bereft of happiness, and literally in a dark room. He is filled with complicated emotions as his unfaithful partner enters their room: he’s sad that he had to wait so long after expected to see her, he’s angry that she’s eight hours late, he feels like he needs her even more when she’s gone, he wants to believe that she loves him, he knows that he must be at least partially to blame for the state of their relationship, he wants to understand, and he wants to feel loved. It’s a complicated series of emotions for a novel to explore, let alone a song. When I talk about teenager love songs being simplistic expressions of “I want you, I need you, I love you,” this song is the extreme end opposite them, expressing a complex mix of often contradictory emotions. And the end result of all of this emotion from the singer is that he swings wildly back and forth between wanting to know everything about her other relationship and feeling that ignorance is bliss (“There are so many things that I just gotta know/You tell me who/You tell me how/You tell me when/But don’t tell me now/I don’t need any answers tonight/I just need some love/So turn out the lights/And I’ll be left in the dark again”). With the relationship crumbling and her infidelity obvious, he feels the need for her love and her sexuality nonetheless (“There are no lies on your body/So take off your dress/I just wanna get at the truth/ . . . /I just need some love/So turn out the lights/And I’ll be left in the dark again”). He’s so lost without her that he can’t admit the truth, but he knows it too clearly to deny it. It’s a heartbreaking series of emotions.
The song opens with a spoken-word Steinman invocation that sets the stage for the song’s themes but doesn’t really add much. His dramatic delivery is great as always, but it’s really unnecessary. It closes similarly, emphasizing the question “Who made the very first move?” The closing, if it adds anything, actually undermines the emotion of the song, since it wants to assign blame for the affair rather than exploring the singer’s emotions that have been everything else in the song.
After that music-free opening, a soft piano played by Steve Margoshes and Steinman’s shaking voice take over. The song remains just those two instruments until strings and drums join the chorus. The New York Philharmonic that played “The Storm” also appears on this song, now conducted by Charles Calello. Later, there are much louder strings, a few strains of electric guitar, and the rest of the orchestra. Everything reaches a fever pitch, with Steinman shouting, “Deep down in my soul I know” leading into the chorus with choir vocals and every instrument beneath him, one of the loudest moments that even Steinman ever recorded. Then, as Steinman retreats again with “But don’t tell me now/I don’t need any answers tonight,” it returns to piano and vocal and those slowly soften until his voice reaches a whisper of “I just need some love/So turn out the lights/And I’ll be left in the dark again.” It feels like the song is going out with a whimper, and then it explodes with every instrument back at full blast as he repeats the same lines and then it finally fades away to just piano under the spoken word ending.
At the time of release, this album’s reviews were quite mixed, but one point that was often singled out for criticism was Steinman’s weak vocals on this song. And there’s good reason for that: the louder moments of this song expose his lack of lung power more than anything else on the album and his quavering, emotional vocal in the softer sections sometimes moves noticeably off-pitch. I will say that I think he does succeed in imbuing his vocal with the emotion and personality that he lacks at some other points on the album, and the whispered vocals in the false finish are actually quite effective. Does that all make up for the other weaknesses? Maybe not, but it’s a point in his favor.
This song is an absolute stunner. “For Crying out Loud” was great, but frankly I think this song is actually superior. The complex emotions in the lyrics are those of a grown person working though a common but difficult situation, and never has anything been more sadly expressed than this man’s cry of “I just need some love/So turn out the lights/And I’ll be left in the dark again.” The melody is gorgeous, the orchestra is fantastic. Really, the only thing that lets this song down is the vocals. I waited forever for a perfect recording of this song and it never came, but this version is still my favorite, because it’s close to perfect except for the vocals, and that’s close enough.
- The spoken-word portions don’t really add anything, but they also don’t really take away.
- I’m still holding out hope that Tobias Sammet, given his love of Jim Steinman and willingness to record covers of decidedly non-metal songs (“Maniac” with Avantasia and “Rock Me Amadeus” with Edguy) will somehow take a pass at this song, whether he is the lead or someone else. The fact that he’s gone this long without doing a Steinman song as tribute, including the release of a new Avantasia album, may mean that nothing like that will happen. Even if he ever decided to, I would not bet on this being the song he would choose, but I still feel like it just never got its ideal recording, and with Steinman gone I think he’s the best hope I have.
- No one else would even try to wrap up these feelings in lyrics, let alone make them so poignant.
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