Crowd of Full Pockets

Movie and Music Analysis from One Lacking Any Credentials to Provide It

“It’s All Coming back to Me Now” by Pandora’s Box

The Original Sin album is bizarre. Steinman is clearly just given free reign to do as he pleases here, which is how we get a sequence like “original song, Doors cover, classical interlude, music-less speech, original song.” That he’s doing it under a “group” name that he invented for three real singers and one fictitious one just makes the whole proceeding a bit weirder. As much as I love the album, it’s always seemed a little weird to me that someone ever let him record this. Shouldn’t some executive have been saying, “Hey, what’s with ‘Requiem Metal?’ Why not just go from one song to the next? And what’s with the speeches? Most of them aren’t even the girls–they’re you!?”

Yes, Steinman had proven to be capable of commercial success. Bat out of Hell had been a phenomenon and Faster than the Speed of Night had revitalized the flagging career of Bonnie Tyler. He’d even been able to coax hits out of has-been Barry Manilow, who had disappeared since, and Air Supply, who also turned out to be on their last legs. However, he’d had his failures: Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire failed to continue Tyler’s momentum, neither of the follow-ups to Bat out of Hell had made much headway, and both the Streets of Fire film and Billy Squier’s Signs of Life album had been failures (albeit for reasons unrelated to his own work).

I think this song is the reason they allowed it. Steinman had written the song some time before the recording and it seems to have been seen as a surefire hit behind the scenes immediately, with various artists, including Meat Loaf, begging Steinman to be the one to record it and Steinman turning them all down. Even when he went to work on the Pandora’s Box album, he apparently was not happy with any of the potential voices until Caswell, who was recommended by different people in different versions of the story, got a shot. Once the album was finished, the studio also okayed spending enormous sums of money on a music video directed by Ken Russell for the song, again showing their confidence that it would be a hit. After the video was shot and everything was ready to go, Caswell describes having been crestfallen when the studio essentially ended up not releasing the single in the US for reasons that have never been clear. I suggest reading her account of the ordeal (including the bizarre video and her experience recording that) on her website here.

Since it became much more famous a few years later, listeners now are probably not going to be surprised by much of the original recording. It opens with a call-and-response between Roy Bittan’s piano and synthesized strings moving the main hook up the scale until a loud bell sound crashes with the strings. The piano then starts to play the chorus melody with some atmospheric synthesizer sounds around it. Caswell’s voice joins and the Rundgren/Troyer/Dodd backing vocals go in and out through one verse and the chorus. Then we get sort of a jingle bell rhythm joining in through a second verse. Traditional drums and a weird shaking sound replace the bells on the second chorus and then Eddie Martinez delivers one of the best guitar solos in any Steinman song ever, going on for nearly a minute. We go through essentially the same build again except that guitars join in midway through the second verse, and then the song fades out with just Caswell and a piano.

There are a number of reasons for the way this song got compared to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but one is that it has essentially the same structure of that song and “Making Love out of Nothing at All.” Its arrangement, with some prominent guitars and far less synthesizer, is actually closer to the latter than the former, but it makes sense to compare it to the bigger hit.

While Caswell never really hit it big, this song undoubtedly shows that it’s not because of anything wrong with her voice. She absolutely nails this song, sounding comfortable, powerful, and emotive with every sound throughout. This recording even really de-emphasizes backing vocals, and I have to wonder it it’s because three guys can’t really stand up to her.

Lyrically, Steinman always talked about this song being about Heathcliff dancing with Catherine’s body in Wuthering Heights (and for the record, no that does not happen in the book, but what he does with her body is if anything creepier). I think from a less specific perspective, the song is about the power love has to give both life and death. The singer describes, in poetic terms, dying when her partner left, and life returning when the partner returns, but even still it’s not treated as a complete “all was good, then bad, now good again” the way most songs would. Singing about when they were first together, she mentions “empty threats and hollow lies/And whenever you tried to hurt me, I just hurt you even worse and so much deeper” but also describes now that “When you see me like this/And when I see you like that/We see what we want to see/All coming back to me/The flesh and the fantasies/All coming back to me.” It wasn’t a perfect the first time and it’s not sure now. It’s all more complicated than popular music has generally allowed, an emotional depth that Steinman regularly expresses. And so when she concludes, she says, “If you forgive me all this/If I forgive you all that/We forgive and forget,” essentially an expression that giving it another try doesn’t mean that what went wrong before didn’t happen or won’t happen again–it means forgiving and looking past what went wrong the last time.

In a way, this song is a quintessential Steinman song. The use of the same epic ballad structure from his most famous song, the dramatic arrangement, the booming vocals, and the emotionally complex lyrics are all Steinman trademarks. However, it’s also something of a Steinman-by-the-numbers song. It’s almost “Total Eclipse of the Heart 2: Electric Boogaloo,” and while that’s still great, it just feels to me like it’s a (small) step shy of his best work.


  • If you are reading this and have not been there somehow, the invaluable website has an awesome archive of articles about the Pandora’s Box album. I worried that I would paralyze myself with trying to find exactly which article says what about the history of this song, so what I am presenting is essentially my understanding of its history from having read as much as I can about it, but that archive is the majority of it. However, if there is any post that definitely needs to mention my debt to that site, it’s this one.
  • That video is still freaking weird. And how somebody let Jim Steinman, the Lord of Excess, hire Ken Russell to direct a video is something I do not think I will ever understand. What were the odds that you were going to get something usable? (Though, to be fair, it is not as explicit or graphic as I would have expected. It’s just also even weirder than I would have expected.) It’s like if you hired David Lynch to direct a William S. Burroughs novel and somehow expected to show it on broadcast US television. Such a strange decision.
  • I haven’t ever heard a real explanation of what went wrong with the US release, but part of me wonders if Bat out of Hell II had something to do with it. There seem to be differing reports and memories about which year but consistently it is around Christmas in either ’89 or ’90 that Steinman and Meat Loaf played together at a party and then started seriously discussing another project together. I don’t know what happened and maybe no one really does know, but deciding not to release the song in the US seems so odd after spending so much on recording and promotion that it feels like there has to be a story there.






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