Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Review: Meat Loaf - Hell In a Handbasket

I feel that and I'm pretty sure I'm alone in feeling that the full extent of the glory that theatrical rock star Meat Loaf receives is questionable. When his musical career first really took flight, the intention was to create music with a dark atmosphere that left a real emotional impact and while creating time for some light-hearted moments in the duration of the songs ultimately leave a chilling and shocking impact towards all who dared to listen and leave a lasting impression on all generations of gothic charm to come. Apparently this has happened. I don't see any evidence of it. The biggest Meat Loaf fan I can think of is my my Mum. And songs like Bat Out of Hell and I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) have become cheap party songs played so people can be intentionally cheesy and nostalgic. I speak harshly of these songs as someone who likes them and likes Bat Out of Hell I and II but has simply watched the reputation of their songs getting tarnished.

 Actually, I've grown fonder of Meat Loaf's more recent work and I'm probably the only one who thinks this way. I really enjoyed 2006's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. It's probably my favourite 'Loaf album so far as it shows the desire to create dark and theatrical hard rock actually coming to full effect with a perfect emotional effect being reached with lots of theatrical madness and kick ass hard rock in between. But even then, listening to album number twelve Hell In a Handbasket feels strange because, overall, this theatrical element is much less present here. The album feels stripped down in many ways. But it's actually enjoyable. As opener All of Me introduces the album with a simple swinging piano led blues rock backdrop, while 'Loaf's powerful operatic vocals are released in a mellower fashion, listeners are treated to what is perhaps Meat Loaf sounding at his most real.
 So across this album, Meat Loaf's prime skill of creating piano-led rock ballads filled with intense soul and emotion is executed effortlessly as any focus on creating any atmospheric elements with extra orchestration or synthesized backdrops is replaced with extra emphasis on creating melodically crafted songs with big choruses and hooks so tracks like Live or Die and Another Day are soul rock perfection and 'Loaf's legendary voice is released here to astonishing and epic effect with the full amount of power to fill up... stadiums, I suppose.
 Although, this album is not full on straightforward in it's approach by any means. There's a great emphasis on more adrenaline packed hard rock on Hell In a Handbasket as well, as Party of One comes with the rambunctious, clattering sound of rough hard rock that has sparked 'Loaf's most famous work. There's also risky collaborations to be found on this album as well. It's probably the reason why Bat Out of Hell purists have slammed this album but I think the collaborations are awesome here. In particular, the guest appearance on Blue Sky/ Mad Mad World... from Chuck D of Public Enemy, one of the few rappers I can get behind, whose guest vocals in the song's bridge is genuinely gripping and adds to the intensity of the song rather than simply serving as a gimmick and simple sign that purely represents musical variation. Surprisingly, the collaboration filled Stand In the Storm is also very gripping considering the lame premise behind the collaboration that the three other musicians, country music star Trace Adkins, rapper Lil Jon and Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath first met with Meat Loaf when appearing on the 11th series of America's Celebrity Apprentice and recorded a song together for that reason. However, with that aside, the result of the four collaborating is a slamming piece of dirty uplifting soul rock of rather epic proportions.
 Overall, Hell In a Handbasket is a wonderful listening experience for those that love their music big with melodies and emotion and for their captivating performance filled with hooks and melodies, praise must be given to The Neverland Express for their exquisite backdrops. The performance of Meat Loaf is large on power and ability to stun and it's very impressive to see his legendary voice continuing but in a manner more earthly and intimate than before. So for now, my enjoyment of Meat Loaf stays at parallel levels to most people I know by preferring his newer material to older, but with the strength of albums like this, can you blame me?

 Meat Loaf's Hell In a Handbasket is out now via Sony Records.

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