by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
Jim Steinman is a name most synonymous with the work of Meat Loaf, and his iconic Bat Out of Hell trilogy. But he deserves to be a household name in his own right, spinning tall tales of moody castles and gothic romance. Defined by his lengthy compositions and fantastical language, he’s worked and written with the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Air Supply and the Sisters of Mercy – pursuing his own solo career, for a time, in 1984’s Bad for Good.
But perhaps the most overlooked moment of Steinman’s career came in 1980s, when he put together an all-female group – consisting of Elaine Caswell, Ellen Foley, Gina Taylor and Deliria Wilde – named Pandora’s Box. In ’89, the group released their debut, and only release to their name, Original Sin. A concept album of sorts, it tells of the eponymous myth of Pandora’s Box; its invocation, and all the chaos it brings.
Across fourteen blazing tracks, haunting compositions and standout rock opera epics, Original Sin is a love letter from the inner fantasy nerd of Steinman, painting blackened landscapes of biblical vengeance, the Underworld, cheap love and rekindled flames. It also features a plethora of Steinman material that would end recycled in future projects, and similarly pieces of his that had been around for years prior. In many ways, Pandora’s Box – and the sole record he conceived for the band – is the most personal work of his, even more so than Bad for Good.
It’s echoed that, despite the album’s less-than-stellar response, both critically and commercially, sculptor Steinman was very proud of the release. As he should be. Sure, he wrote Bat Out of Hell, and some of the best rock tracks in recorded history (‘For Crying Out Loud’, ‘I’d Do Anything For Love…’, ‘Nowhere Fast’), but Original Sin is undeniably his magnum opus. It packs all the oomph and bombastic power you’d expect from what is essentially a Steinman solo project, the ferocious vocals of Pandora’s Box’s collective and the kind of gothic imagery even Bram Stoker would bow to.
It features, in my earnest opinion, the definitive versions of many of Steinman’s best, from ‘Original Sin’ – which would later feature on Meat Loaf’s 1995 album, Welcome to the Neighbourhood – and‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’ to ‘Good Girls Go To Heaven…’ and ‘It Just Won’t Quit’.
Original Sin is a hidden chest of dark, moody rhapsodies engulfed in frilly-shirted odes to the tortured, disfigured heart. Its choice of covers is ambitious but calculated – the spoken pieces are articulate and charmingly Steinmanesque – and the original tracks remain ahead of their time, thirty years later.
After all, the weakest moments of the entire album, really, are when the roaring women cover The Doors and Burt Bacharach – imagine that! And whilst ‘Twentieth Century Fox’ and ‘My Little Red Book’ are still reignited with an added surge of energy, it’s Steinman’s poetry (‘I’ve Been Dreaming Up a Storm Lately’) and fire-breathing anthems (the title track, ‘It Just Won’t Quit’) that prove more than memorable.
Original Sin is part performance poetry, part rock epic. And maybe that’s why it proved a commercial failure – one of the few Steinman creations not to be rendered in gold the moment its verses dried on the page. But it is his best work all the same, and contains all the burning pieces of flesh and muscle that made the man what he is – it is, simply, Steinman incarnate.
And the vocal talents of Caswell, Foley, Taylor and Wilde are not to be dismissed, either. Original Sin may be the brainchild of Steinman, but these four belles poured forth the rock ‘n roll thunder which the man’s Wagnerian rock deserved, and that’s no easy task. Pandora’s Box’s one release was a meeting of musical minds at the top of their game, and though it may not have much of a legacy, it remains a true masterpiece, a relic lost to the cruelty of time. It’s an ancient artefact, obscure and unknown, waiting to be reassessed in another age. And I think Steinman would have approved of that kind of legend.
Hi Michael – Thanks for reaching out. I’ve responded to you via my personal e-mail. Cheers.
Hi Jacob – I’m a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in Australia and I was actually in the process of writing a column about this album. I’d love to speak to you about it – my details are attached if you can get in touch please. Cheers!