Meat Loaf – “Hell in a Handbasket” (2012, Sony Legacy)
Meat Loaf has always had a mixed-bag track record when it comes to his studio albums. Without Jim Steinman to contribute anything to his latest album, due out in March, the result is less than mixed; these songs, weighed down by Meat’s advancing age and decreasing ability to push himself to the vocal limit these over-the-top songs demand, sink rapidly under the pressure. There’s little about Hell in a Handbasket which merits more than a qualified “meh.”
The highlight, “All of Me,” is the album’s opening salvo, and it features an aging musician trying to relive his glory years with lyrics of young love and broken hearts: “This is my anger, this is my shame,” he sings. “These are my insecurities which I can’t explain.” Unfortunately the album showcases his insecurities in all their glory, as he refuses to choose songs which his voice can handle, and he’s living in the past, unwilling to admit he’s simply unable to do bombastic much justice.But the song itself is at least catchy — the remainder of the album plummets in quality from there. “The Giving Tree” is just plain lame from every angle, as Meat carries on a conversation with money, attempting to rationalizing “selling this old soul for whatever you can get,” giving “one pound of gold for ten pounds of flesh.”
A cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Mad Mad World” brings in Chuck D to try and liven things up, and his rap (given the parenthetical “Good God Is A Woman And She Don’t Like Ugly”) does just that, adding some juice to the proceedings. But the guest spot simply shows how vastly Meat’s been overshadowed, and that makes the rest of the album pale in comparison. “Live or Die” brings some serious guitar crunch, but the songs builds up to a lame chorus: “there’s only two choices in life: live or die.” We’ve already heard the “get busy living or get busy dying” trope ten thousand times in rock. There’s nothing about this which demands listeners to put down their money in support of new material which pales in comparison with the work he’s done before. At least his getting back with Patti Russo on an oddly hip-hop infused version of “California Dreaming” makes up for a portion of the disappointment built up by listening to this album’s slow steady letdown. This is the music he could be making as he rides into the sunset of old age, putting his twist on music he can vocally handle. Unfortunately what works on that song tends to point out more openly how much he’s overreached on the rest of the album.
Fans of Meat Loaf will assuredly dig through the mess which is Hell in a Handbasket and find their handfuls of good things to say about what is assuredly a disappointing effort. There’s nothing here to win him new fans, and those of us who have stuck around are more likely to come out of this with a new-found determination to stick with the stellar back catalog rather than remind ourselves every few years how average his music has become.