Review: Hell in a Handbasket

Lets get the actual review out of the way first, before I digress: Meat Loaf’s latest album, Hell in a Handbasket, is a pretty good album, but it’s just not how I like my Meat Loaf. I like it big and pompously over the top and silly jet sincere with loads of piano thunder. Instead, you get dime-a-dozen rock songs with occasional sprinkles of country and hip hop. There are a bunch of guest appearances — most notably rappers Chuck D. of Public Enemy and Lil Jon — but they don’t add much to songs. Hell, Trace Adkins’ contribution to the European reworking of “Stand in the Storm” makes the song pretty much intolerable. And mr. Loaf himself? Well, his vocals are pretty good too.

For me, the highlights are the lead ‘single’ “All of Me”, “Our Love and Our Souls” and “Blue Sky”, on behalf of the piano and lyrics, Patti Russo and the instrumental outro respectively. As the AV Club said in their review of the album, it’s neither fun enough nor weird enough to demand the kind of obsessive replaying of Meat Loaf’s best. Which pretty much sums it up for me. Two and a half stars out of five.

Allow me to ramble on about the lyrics for a bit then. According to Meat Loaf, Hell in a Handbasket, is the most personal record he’s ever made. It’s really the first record I’ve ever put out about how I feel about life and how I feel about what’s going on at the moment.

Since I’m only in it for the music, I can’t say that I’ve been really interested in mr. Loaf’s political and world views. It’s not something I want to get into, even. But when that is what he’s singing about and since I have this website where I try to put all the words of all his songs together, it’s kinda hard to stay out.

Perusing the lyrics, I got the feeling that mr. Loaf was not completely in his happy place when he recorded the album. Despite the occasional glimmer of hope and redemption, it’s a pretty bleak, frustrated and angsty affair.

You see, Meat believes the world is going to hell in a handbasket. No, really. The world is heading for disaster, we all fall from grace in so many ways; it’s not just war and politics, but also, you know, the internet and stuff. To pull just one example from one of his interviews:

Why is it that a girl and her mother, who are atheists – which is fine, I’m not putting them down for their beliefs – but why do they attack a school because there is a prayer on a wall that has been there for fifty years? Why does the ACLU want to get involved and tackle that kind of case when there are so many cases that are really important? I would hear about stuff like that and just say, “The world is going to hell in handbasket.”

When I read stuff like this, my heart sinks. Because, to be blunt, he hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about. You might want to read the Wikipedia article for the full back story, but the short version is that Jessica Ahlquist, a sixteen year old girl, took a stand to uphold the US constitution and the freedom of religion it provides. The public high school in question violated the Establishment Clause of the US constitution by displaying a prayer, but objecting to that is a sign that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Sure.

I know, I probably shouldn’t make such a fuss about it, but it just rubs me the wrong way. I’d rather have him singing about how he can barely fit his dick in his pants. I can easily ignore how fucking stupid that song’s lyrics are, and just enjoy the hook. That’s not Meat Loaf singing, that’s the character he’s playing. But given the personal context of this album, when he sings There’s only two choices in life: live or die, am I supposed to think that he really means that? I hope not.

But as I said, I’m probably over-thinking it. And there are still a couple of lyrics that I like. Apart from the one enormous clichéd line in the bridge (It saddens me to think that I cannot turn back the hands of time ), the introspection of All of Me is something I can relate to:

This is my anger
This is my shame
These are my insecurities, that I can’t explain
This is my fortress, crumbling ’round my feet
Take a good look, baby: this is all of me

And then you have “Blue Sky,” that closes the album * on a hopeful note: Is it so hard to see / That we’re all the same machine? / Don’t we all live and die / Under the same blue sky? That song compensates a lot of the pent-up anger, frustration, depression, doom, gloom and prophecies of fire, brimstone and biblical floods that came before.

* The Australian version of the album, that is. Not so much in the reshuffled rest-of-the-world-minus-Germany edition.