The career of Meat Loaf has now passed the four-decade mark – a time period during which he has produced some of the most bombastic and overblown music in American rock history. He has also produced some of the most commercially successful music of that period, as his Bat Out Of Hell trilogy of albums has spearheaded a series of releases that have sold close to 50 million albums worldwide.
He has now returned with his 12th studio album, Hell In A Handbasket, and it is a dramatic departure from much of the music that preceded it. His off-again, on-again relationship with songwriter/producer Jim Steinman is off this time, which has significantly altered the singer’s sound. While the keyboards are still present, the guitar is now the dominant instrument, which brings his music close to a straight rock sound.
Another big change is the lyrics. “Hell In A Handbasket is the most personal record I’ve ever made,” said Meat Loaf. “It’s really the first record I’ve ever put out about how I feel about life and how I feel about what’s going on at the moment.” While I agree that the songs are very personal, I’m not so sure they are his stories, as he did not write any of the tracks. Still, the songs are sung with passion, energy, and conviction. Plus, his vocal approach is more under control than in the past.
What has remained a constant is his backing band, The Neverland Express. Drummer John Miceli, vocalist Patti Russo, guitarist/producer Paul Crook, guitarist Randy Flowers, sax player David Luther, keyboardist John Avery, and bassist Danny Miranda have developed into a tight and more than competent backing unit. The album tends to flow together well as the stories of life’s stress, the passage of time, loss, and acceptance meander and then rejoin together to create a cohesive whole.
There are a number of standout tracks. The driving guitars of “Stand In The Storm,” with guests Trace Adkins, Lil Jon, and Mark McGrath, and the closing ballad “Fall From Grace” are nice counterpoints to each other, as they prove opposites can co-exist. Patti Russo brings her powerful vocal chops to “Our Love And Our Souls” and an odd cover that works, “California Dreamin.’” The latter track starts out as a traditional interpretation of the Mamas and Papas pop classic, but builds into a rock masterpiece.
After 40 years, Meal Loaf has produced an adult and mature album of solid rock music. Hell In A Handbasket is both familiar and different and is worth a listen for anyone who has appreciated his music in the past.