Have you ever wondered what the Meat Loaf-Steinman team would produce if required to record a straightforward piece of–to use the music critic term–MOR AOR? Okay, I haven’t, either. But here it is!
From the moment the song opens with an almost glam rock-style descending chord guitar riff joined quickly by doubled leads, it’s clear we’re in a rather different place than Steinman’s typical work. Some rhythmic piano and surprisingly sedate drumming join in to complete the 1975 Doobie Brothers illusion and honestly the only thing that ever really breaks it is Meat Loaf’s ragged vocal. The guitars are loud and present, but they also stay in their places in that way that so much classic rock does. Everything feels very conventional until a quiet piano-led bridge that slowly builds back up to the title using a melody that’s a little too close to but isn’t quite “Bad for Good.”
Once again, Meat Loaf’s vocals are a mess here. The lower part at the start of the bridge and a few of the hoarse shouts are fine, but the rest sounds weak and strained. His overdone vibrato is even more overdone than usual here, to the point that it almost feels like a joke and his higher-pitched registers are just off.
If I weren’t told, I would never have guessed that these are Jim Steinman lyrics. The singer is an angry, possessive man who is alternately throwing his significant other out of his life and screaming at her, “I’ll kill you if you don’t come back!” Maybe there is supposed to be humor in his maniacal swinging between the two, but it’s just too easy to map these feelings onto a jealous abuser not to feel like that’s who we’re following. It’s the kind of casual misogynistic possessiveness that rock and roll normally celebrates but Steinman is typically self-aware enough to avoid or even comment on directly.
While the production of Dead Ringer was definitely fraught and I don’t want to try to disentangle the differing stories I have read from various participants and onlookers, the Jim Steinman wiki provides a clear and reasonable enough narrative that makes sense of this song. Essentially, Meat Loaf and Steinman had to deliver another album to complete their contract and so notoriously slow songwriter Steinman delivered five new songs to join “More Than You Deserve,” “Nocturnal Pleasures,” and “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through.” At the last second, he pulled the last of those for his solo album and replaced it with “Dead Ringer for Love.” All of that means that in a matter of months, Steinman is meant to have written six songs, a feat that would take him years at other times. It’s easy to see how that handful of songs (“Peel Out,” “I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us,” “Read ‘Em and Weep,” “Dead Ringer for Love,” “Everything is Permitted,” and this one) would be weaker and more straightforward–Steinman just hadn’t labored over them the way he would other songs over the course of his career. Hence we get this straightforward ’70s-style rocker.
Is it bad? No. Is it great? No. The best word I can use to describe this song is “forgettable.” It’s fine and there’s no reason to turn it off in spite of Meat Loaf’s vocals, but it’s far from special.
- I don’t find this song’s lyrics problematic to a level beyond many older rock songs, and one could interpret it in ways that make it less or completely un-problematic. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on anyone involved and definitely feels like it’s of a piece with the mythology of rock and roll; but it still seems uncomfortably like a controlling, abusive relationship to me.
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