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Meat Loaf: Welcome to the Neighbourhood (Virgin, CD/double LP/tape, out Mon). In 1978, Meat Loaf released Bat out of Hell. Masterminded by Jim Steinman, it was a tongue-in-cheek rock'n'roll extravaganza - diverse, jokey and well over-the-top - Springsteen meets the Doors in a Hammer remake of Peter Pan. Loaf and Steinman went on to make other records, together and independently, but by 1990, their careers had hit dead ends. They reunited. The resulting album, cunningly titled Bat Out of Hell II, was the best selling LP of 1993. But it wasn't the same as Bat I. Gone were the variety and the humour. Steinman was no longer capable of producing a track of less than 10 minutes or 1,000 decibels. It was a parody of a parody. At first glance, Welcome ... looks worse. The two Steinman tracks are splendid, but both are reheated from previous records. Worse still, the formulaic songwriter, Diane Warren, responsible for some of Celine Dion's most heinous atrocities, has cooked up some ersatz Steinman, complete with "Pompous Title (And a Bit in Brackets)". It's not Meat Loaf, it's Linda McCartney's soya substitute. And yet despite these odds, Welcome ... is everything the last Meat Loaf album should have been. The heroic escapism is leavened with fun and humanity, not stodgy with symphonic bombast. The sleeve is decorated with B-movie poster images: Loaf was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and "Runnin' for the Red Light" has all that film's hedonistic glee. The writers of the 1984 hit, "Modern Girl", contribute the shockingly anti-PC "When the Rubber Meets the Road", a "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" car-sex scenario reshot for the Nineties: "Cop in the back seat / lawyer in the back seat / gettin' it on videotape." Tom Waits and Van Halen's Sammy Hagar chip in a song each. And just when you think the record relies on kitsch, that earth-shaking, wholehearted voice sends shivers up and down your spine. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll rock! You'll roll! The big chap's best record since the first Bat Out of Hell. Nicholas Barber

Pulp: Different Class (Island, CD/LP/tape, out Mon). "I spy for a living and I specialise in revenge," hisses Jarvis Cocker, Sheffield's working- class hero, and here the nerd's revenge is at its most bittersweet. Different Class is a 100 per cent proof distillation of everything Pulp do well. The songs are their most melodic yet; the lyrics are observational and personal, witty and chilling, savage and romantic; and the band create an ambitious, claustrophobic disco backing. Speaking of which, the probable next single, "Disco 2000", is a classic. It was written, apparently, because Cocker considered the royalties that Prince will receive in four years' time when his song "1999" is played everywhere, and so set out to guarantee his own income for the following year. It's the archetypal Pulp kitchen- sink tragicomedy, and contains the archetypal Pulp rhyming couplet: "It meant nothin' to you/ 'Cause you were too popular" (well, it rhymes when Jarvis sings it). Pulp's last album, His'n' Hers, was a vote away from the Mercury Music Prize. Different Class is as great a leap forward as its title would suggest. Perfect. NB