Review Summary: Meat has delivered a generally satisfying record in 2011, but no immediate standouts.
Meat Loaf has always, and probably will be, always compared by his Jim Steinman-written albums to his ones not written with direct Steinman influence. This is particuarly because Steinman contribution was so heavy on his major global successes, "Bat Out Of Hell" and "Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell". But to the main masses of Meat fans, they have and always will appreciate his works without Steinman just as much. Many of those unfamiliar to Meat may even feel the same, if they were exposed to such work.
We come to this, "Hell In a Handbasket", produced by Meat's live guitarist Paul Crook, one of those examples of an album without a touch of Steinman in it, and released rapidly after Meat Loaf's last effort, the fun, enjoyable and eccentric "Hang Cool Teddy Bear". It's obvious that Meat, now in his 60's, is experimenting with new sounds, new styles and new ideas from the first song, and it's not necessarily a bad thing, although some may cry in dismay at the lack of the over-6-minutes rock operas that we are so accustomed to hearing from the star.
It's sad to then have to say, that some of the songs really let down Meat here. His shining moments are where he takes his new ideas and blends them in with some of the roots that made his other material so successful, but there are falters where he just tries too hard to be different. Songs like "Fall from Grace", "The Giving Tree" and "Mad Mad World/Good God Is a Woman and she Don't Like Ugly" (weird title, right?) with rapper Chuck D providing rap, just really falter and make it difficult to continue through to the rest of actually decent work. These three tracks just seem to undo everything that "All Of Me" achieved in being a phenomenal opener for Meat Loaf.
The slack then picks up, with rocker "Party Of One" and the dramatic "Live Or Die", both nods in the right direction and the kind of dramatic rock tone Meat Loaf thrives in, and gladly, this carries through to "California Dreamin'" with long-time duet partner Patti Russo, and "Another Day", both successfully pulling off the new southern-inspired sound Meat Loaf is experimenting with.
A highlight from the album is "Stand In the Storm", the charity single recorded with John Rich (Big & Rich), Mark McGrath and Crunk/Rap superstar Lil Jon, who all make a very successful contribution to the sound and help make it the most bombastic, in-your-face, enjoyable tune on the record, and the song where Meat sounds most at his comfort and at his best.
This song sounds like the finale of the record, with final track "Blue Sky" feeling more like an effective epilogue to the album, leaving the listener praying for one more song to magically appear - this album has good moments, but doesn't leave full satisfaction, as many will most likely skip a few of those awkward starters, such as "Fall From Grace." Both "Hang Cool" and "Hell in a Handbasket" have their great moments, but I'm left wondering whether some of the slower ones from this record should have been on Hang Cool, and some of the faster ones that made Hang Cool louder be on this record, as both need more of what the other had to offer?
No addictive songs like "Los Angeloser", "You Took the Words" or "I'd Do Anything For Love" that get stuck in your head though, but this is small criticism however to the enjoyment of listening to this record, as it shows a new light to Meat's widening repetoire. Albeit the weaker moments, this record will leave the listener generally satisfied with the result and praising Meat's diversity, and some of the pieces may sound fantastic live.
BEST TRACKS: "All Of Me", "Live Or Die", "Stand in The Storm"