Meat Loaf

Hell in a Handbasket

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Arriving hot on the heels of 2010’s highly conceptual Hang Cool Teddy Bear, Hell in a Handbasket feels like an intimate affair but that assessment is relative. Coming from any other artist, Hell in a Handbasket would sound overblown but for Meat Loaf, it’s relatively reflective, containing thunder in its production but lacking melodrama in its composition. Despite the strategic deployment of “hell” in its title, this album has nothing to do with the three previous Bat Out of Hell albums, including 2006’s Jim Steinman-less The Monster Is Loose, but it has Meat Loaf's signature everything-plus-two-kitchen-sinks approach, sometimes stretching past the point of parody as when he brings in his fellow Celebrity Apprentice contestants John Rich, Lil Jon, and Mark McGrath in for the nonsensical cluster-duet “Stand in the Storm.” There, more is most definitely too much, but elsewhere on Hell in a Handbasket, Meat Loaf drifts into appealing strange territory, like the truly bizarre splicing of a galloping Tom Cochrane rocker and a muscular Chuck D rap on “Mad Mad World/The Good God Is a Woman and She Don’t Like Ugly,” a pairing that doesn’t sit easily but is oddly compelling. But such an extreme is actually a rarity on Hell in a Handbasket: much of the record, produced by Paul Crook, is as straight down the middle as could be expected by an album that features a cover of the Mamas & Papas' “California Dreamin’,” the beefy guitars eventually giving away to a procession of power ballads. Stripped of some of his bombast, Meat Loaf sounds contemplative, almost sincere, even when his material is overheating, trying desperately to convey big emotions on a grand scale. If the songs don’t quite deliver upon their promise, at least Crook’s production and Meat Loaf's performance keep things interesting.

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