Band : Meat Loaf
Album title : Hell In A Handbasket
Label : Legacy
Distributor : Sony Music
Release date : Oct. 2011 (Australia/ New Zealand; Germany= 02/12/2011; Rest of world = Feb. 2012)
Release : CD

Heck, this is weird...looks like we completely overlooked Meat Loaf's April 2010 released album Hang Cool Teddy Bear, making the review for Bat Out Of Hell III – The Monster Is Loose (posted 10/11/2006) the last update we gave you on the enigmatic singer/ actor. So I'd say a summary check-up on the man is well overdue, eh?

Following the weeks of the release of Bat III (which peaked at #8 on US' Billboard, and also got into the top 10 in Australia, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK), Meat Loaf undertook a small tour dubbed Bases Loaded Tour in North America and Europe. A more expansive tour (Seize the Night Tour) started in early 2007, dragging along Marion Raven (who'd sung a duet with Meat on the album's first single “it's All Coming Back To Me” – which, by the way, entered the UK Singles Charts at #6 to become Meat Loaf's highest ranking single in over 11 years) as support act on the European and US legs of the tour. Parts of the tour were recorded on film during February, and later used in the film Meat Loaf: In Search Of Paradise. It was shown in theaters in March 2008 and released on DVD 2 months later. Dates in October and November 2007 had to be canceled due to “acute laringitis” which turned out to be a cyst on his vocal chords. During a UK show, he'd had to stop the show midway, hinting at the possibility that he'd quit performing after stating “Ladies and gentlemen, I love you, thank you for coming, but I can no longer continue”, adding “Goodbye forever” as he left the stage. He returned to the live front in June 2008, opening his European Casa De Carne Tour (20 dates during two months and in 9 countries), on which he was again re-united with longtime friend and duet partner Patti Russo. The tour was extended for 6 US shows during October and November.

Work on Hang Cool Teddy Bear with producer Rob Cavallo (best known from his work on Green Day's American Idiot)started in May 2009, with material written for him by several writers (including Jon Bon Jovi, by the way). The conceptual album tells the story of a soldier being hurt in battle, and seeing his life flash by, song by song. Actors Hugh Laurie and Jack Black both perform on the album, the first playing piano on the song “If I Can't Have You”, the latter singing a duet with Meat in the song “Like A Rose”. More duets were done with Patti Russo and Kara DioGuardi, and Brian May and Steve Vai (also friends of Meat's) are featured on the album playing some guitar. Although the album only got into the Top 10 in UK, and did not even chart in the US, the Hang Cool Tour  which followed the release in the US, UK, and Canada generated rave reviews from both critics and fans. Russo joined him on the tour, which continued into the summer of 2011.

In May 2011 Meat himself announced in a YouTube video that he was getting ready to record Hell In A Handbasket, naming Paul Crook (guitarist/ keyboardist for The Neverland Express, Meat's live band, which further consists of Justin Avery on keyboards & backing vocals, Randy Flowers on guitars & backing vocals, David Luther on sax & backing vocals, Danny Miranda on bass, and John Miceli on drums) as producer/ recording engineer, and Rob Cavallo to mix the album. The latter would eventually become Chris Lord-Alge. Material on the album was written for Meat Loaf by a host of songwriters, with one Sean McConnell delivering putting his name under 4 of the album's 12 compositions, of which 2 at least [Mamas & Papas' epic “California Dreamin” and Tom Cochrane's “Mad Mad World” (off his 1992 album by the same title)] are covers (I'm not certain about this tune titled “40 Days”, written by Bill Luther/ Justin Weaver). Although as usual a host of guests comes to add their music to that of The Neverland Express (which still includes Patti Russo on backing vocals plus shared leads on “California Dreamin'” and “Our Love And Our Souls”), there's none that I can put my finger on, and the instruments they play are acoustic too (except for the keyboard/ synth one guy adds to 3 songs). However, in the vocal department, we dó get some resounding names to announce, like Chuck D (Public Enemy) doin' some raps in “the Good God Is A Woman And She Don't Like Ugly”), and Trace Adkins (US Country artist), Lil Jon (formerly of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, the rapper is now a solo artist), and Marc McGrath (singer of US Rock band Sugar Ray) all performing on “Stand In The Storm”.

In all honesty, to me it seems like the years are starting to show on Meat...after all he turned 64 in September of late...and while there's still plenty of songs which show him with somewhat energetic vocal stylings, he (quite understandably) doesn't quite reach the same intensities as he did in his Bat Out Of Hell days. Especially the two duets with Russo as ballads with a calmer overall feel. In the case of “California Dreamin'”, I can only say that the decision to calm down the tune was a courageous one, as one would but all too easily fall into the trap of trying to relive the vocal harmonies of the original version of the song. As things came out, Meat's version is far more appropriate to a general feeling of melancholy, when longing for the California sun during the Winter season! In order for you to hear some music off the album, you'll have to make due with the one full-length of album opener “All Of Me” (also the album's first single), and the 30-second samples provided by the trustworthy online sales websites. But when you're familiar with this artist, and in spite of my earlier (negative) comment on Meat's current vocal capacities, you know you can expect a certain quality from this guy, don't you!?