Street Sounds: Meatloaf returns to fiery depths

Dean Gordon-Smith reviews Meatloaf's new album, Hell in a Handbasket

A plus-sized poster boy for operatic rock, Meatloaf doesn’t worry about restraint.

On his 12th album, Hell in a Handbasket, Loaf is aided in his histrionic quest by his equally expansive, hard-driving band, the Neverland Express.

Meatloaf’s celebrated and strident voice blares gloriously. The Bronx rock operas so dominant in his early work with Jim Steinman (Meatloaf’s Bernie Taupin) are now replaced with power-driven guitars and feature-friendly vocalists. Some of these singers work well in the dueting style that Loaf excels in (Patti Russo) but others like Chuck D in the Blue Sky/Mad, Mad World/The Good God is a Woman and She Don’t Like Ugly medley are there to push the intensity envelope.

As expected on a Meatloaf album, emotion and honest angst are centre stage.  They’re Wagnerian in scope, but less than Shakespearian in depth.

Indeed, the Loaf has dimmed the Gotterdammerung down – some good ol’ redneck lights are burning now (Live or Die).

Meatloaf’s ballads are strong and built for blast off. With the piano to soften the blow he belts for all he’s worth (Mad, Mad World). The Giving Tree reaches back for some overblown gospel and testifying that turns up the notch to a righteous level. It’s working….

As Meatloaf is a mouthpiece for songwriters, he’s a frontman par excellence. But his duets only rise to past glories on the unsubtle Stand in the Storm with Trace Adkins, Lil John and Mark McGrath. It strives to be epic but achieves grandstanding and big bluntness – so things are as they should be on a Meatloaf recording. But the epic is achieved on Blue Sky and Fall from Grace.

Like the original rockers of old, Meatloaf  is all about the true blue bluster and drama. Hell in a Handbasket isn’t a happy album but an entertainingly indignant blast from a king of bombast.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a local musician who reviews CDs for The Morning Star in his weekly column, Street Sounds.