By Patrick Prince
“Hell in a Handbasket”
No one can ever accuse Meat Loaf of having a lack of melodrama, even without the bombastic songwriting of former collaborator Jim Steinman.
On “Hell in a Handbasket,” Meat (or Mr. Loaf, if you prefer) enlists the help of country artists and a select few from the hip-hop community to obtain his goals. And the main goal is to entertain the listener — which he always does. The vocalist still retains a kind of magic after all these years. It may not be the captivating spells of “Bat Out of Hell” but it has a respectable charm nonetheless.
There are moments of turning princes into toads, however. Take the cover version of “California Dreamin,’” for instance. Sadly, it comes off more like karaoke next to The Mamas & The Papas original. Patti Russo’s classy backing vocals attempt to salvage the song halfway through, but to no avail. The track is completely unnecessary, even for B-side fodder. Then the album ends with another dud: “Fall From Grace,” a song that tries to follow the path that U2 and Coldplay have embarked on, the airy heights of adult contemporary. In a word, yuck.
The truth is, Meat Loaf is best with a bite. The singer pleases most when he rocks out. “Stand in the Storm” is a durable rocker and enlists artists from Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray) to rapper L’il Jon. And there’s a legitimate rock ’n’ roll single here. But the best is “Party Of One,” an exceptional hard rocker with a Deep Purple-ish monster riff that proves that there’s still quality meat in that old Meat Loaf.