Hell in a Handbasket - Meat Loaf Album Review
"It's the most personal record I've made, about how the world's gone to hell in a handbasket." Meat Loaf is angry with modern societies' callous attitudes, unleashing this sonic diatribe about everything that's bothering him. Maybe it's because he's a 64 year old rock and roll survivor facing his own creative mortality, as persistent vocal problems have him wondering if he'll ever tour again after coughing up blood last time out? Maybe he genuinely cares? Whatever the reason, this is an introspective Loaf channelling pain, regret and redemption into an emotional album awash with sentiment.
'Hell in a Handbasket' follows 2010's 'Hang Cool Teddy Bear', a bombastic modern rock record featuring guest appearances from Brian May and Steve Vai. 'Handbasket' retains that contemporary sound, but whereas 'Hang Cool' was overwrought these are tightly structured songs whose lyrical content dominates as a bombardment of biblical imagery (rain, storms, life, death, angels, fire) hails down like a musical sermon. 'All of Me' showcases Meat declaring 'this is my anger, this is my shame' like a venerable Alanis Morrisette, before weeping 'it saddens me to think I can't turn back the hands of time'.
Bristling rocker 'Live or Die' finds an introductory fiddle upended by a thunderous Black Stone Cherry chunk of guitar riffage, whilst a fillet of slick, country crooned balladry houses Patti Russo duet 'Our Love and Our Souls'. More surprising is a successful, sax soaked rendition of 'California Dreamin' that's sumptuously sorrowful. But Meat's demonic introspection is the album's heartbeat, berating a life lived in the music business on 'Giving Tree' and bitch slapping sycophantic hangers on during garage rocker 'Party of One'. At times the desired grittiness is jarring and clichéd, with Chuck D's rap on a superb, stomp kicking cover of Tom Cochran's 'Mad Mad World' feeling like someone's switched the radio station mid song. Moreover, Lil John's babbling during the brilliantly defiant juggernaut 'Stand In The Storm' sounds like a bad X-Factor flop freestyling over 'Gangster's Paradise'.
How much of Meat Loaf's soul is invested in this album is unclear as he hasn't written a single track, as ever delegating to a team of writers. Nevertheless, he clearly believes what he's singing and whilst the album has a smoother vibe than the theatrical rock opera of albums past it's an enjoyably different romp that's effortlessly engaging and unexpectedly tender.
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