Release Date: Mar 13, 2012
Record label: Sony Legacy
Arriving hot on the heels of 2010’s highly conceptual Hang Cool Teddy Bear, Hell in a Handbasket feels like an intimate affair but that assessment is relative. Coming from any other artist, Hell in a Handbasket would sound overblown but for Meat Loaf, it’s relatively reflective, containing thunder in its production but lacking melodrama in its composition. Despite the strategic deployment of “hell” in its title, this album has nothing to do with the three previous Bat Out of Hell albums, including 2006’s Jim Steinman-less The Monster Is Loose, but it has Meat Loaf's signature everything-plus-two-kitchen-sinks approach, sometimes stretching past the point of parody as when he brings in his fellow Celebrity Apprentice contestants John Rich, Lil Jon, and Mark McGrath in for the nonsensical cluster-duet “Stand in the Storm.
Described by Meat Loaf as "the most honest album I've ever made," Hell in a Handbasket finds him in angry mood, with the usual wolves howling, cannons firing and enough vocal hurricane to tear plants from the back garden. No change there, although there are fiddles, raps and harder rock than usual. The rousing opener, All of Me, rages at his own insecurities and the world in general.
Meat Loaf is not, traditionally, known for his subtlety. Old habits die hard and bombast is still the order of the day now that Michael Lee Aday is 12 albums into his career. And yet, the somewhat grim title and cover of Hell in a Handbasket mask a record which in many ways is a great deal less extreme than usual. Perhaps mellowing a little at the age of 64, Meat has had his cadre of songwriters and collaborators work with him on a record which incorporates more acoustic instruments, more reflective lyrics, and even a cover of the less than explosive classic “California Dreamin’”.
When you decide to listen to a Meat Loaf album, you have a pretty good idea about what you’ll hear: the musical equivalent of the emotion surrounding a Braveheart battle scene, the schmaltz of a Vegas floor show, and the power of an oil tanker explosion all combined together in the vocal chords of a single large man. It’s either something you pump your fist for or something you avoid and dismiss as kitschy. No matter which side you’re on, you can’t deny the power of Meat Loaf’s voice or his rightful place as King of the Anthems.
A political statement? From Meat Loaf? Well, yes. And no. But mostly no. Paul Whitelaw 2012 If we are to assume that Meat Loaf, who doesn't author his own material, has some influence over the conceptual weave of his albums, then we must also assume that his writers were commissioned to write songs reflecting not only his personal malaise, but also his anger at the madness of the modern world.