Music

Meat Loaf: Hell in a Handbasket

Twelve albums in, Meat Loaf finds himself lumbered with a weak set of songwriters and collaborators, suffering as a result.


Meat Loaf

Hell in a Handbasket

Label: Sony Records
US Release Date: 2012-03-13
UK Release Date: 2012-02-27
Amazon
iTunes

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'". Add in the fact that Chuck D makes an appearance, and it's all the more clear that Bat Out of Hell this is not.

What Hell in a Handbasket actually is is another question. The road ahead has always been unclear since Meat Loaf and long-time collaborator and Bat mastermind Jim Steinman parted ways, and excursions outside that familiar template remain a creative and commercial risk. This particular record has seen a troubled a release schedule -- the album was released at the end of last September in Australia -- and some unfulfilled speculation that Steinman might after all play a role in the international release. In addition, the songwriters are unfamiliar and production is handled by the odd duo of Lil Jon and Meat's guitarist Paul Crook -- all in all, saying that this Handbasket feels oddly hacked together is putting it charitably.

This feeling of incoherence and lack of direction would be more bearable if the songs themselves stood up individually, but too many of these tracks are either chaotic failed experiments or sadly missed opportunities. "Blue Sky / Mad Mad World / The Good God Is a Woman and She Don't Like Ugly" is a prime example of the former category, a fairly crude stitch-up of two and a half songs which veers from ballad to half-baked comment on economic woe and on to that lackluster and reluctant appearance by Chuck D. Later on, "Our Love and Our Souls" is one of a number of flat ballads which spectacularly wastes an appearance by Meat's longtime vocal partner Patti Russo, whose appearance on Bat III's raunchy "What About Love" was so memorable. There is a real train wreck in the form of the rather pompous "Stand in the Storm", which offers the surprising lesson that Celebrity Apprentice is not the best source of vocal collaborators.

Inescapably, Meat Loaf will always be known for Bat Out of Hell, and with good reason. Laughed out of town by dozens of record labels before it became one of the best selling albums of the 1970s, the record was fueled by Meat's unique collaboration with Jim Steinman. Clearly, Meat Loaf has gone on to produce some impressive work without Steinman, but the breakup of that partnership has left the singer very much at the mercy of the new songwriting and and collaborative partnerships he has established. Working with the right people can result in great albums, for example Bat III which had only a few Steinman songs at its disposal, but was at least a match for its predecessor; conversely, bad collaborations can produce an album as confused and disappointing as Hell in a Handbasket.

Ultimately scuppered by too many leaden ballads and self-indulgent guest spots, this outing leaves the future looking very unclear once more for Meat Loaf and offers little to those who aren't already die-hard fans. There are only moments which bring to mind Meat's glory days -- here's hoping Steinman helps provide the long-promised Bat finale which may now be the only way to bring those to life again.

3

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image