You'd think that by now I wouldn't be surprised when Heart (fronted since 1975 by vocalists-instrumentalists-songwriters-sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson) release another new album and it's just as fresh and vibrant as their first one, Dreamboat Annie in 1976. But how do they do that? That was 36 years, 14 albums and hundreds of live concerts ago!
Right now, I'm listening to Fanatic (release date 10/02/12) for what must surely be at least the tenth time, and I still can't figure out how they do it. But they do, and that's really all that matters.
Like all Heart albums, Fanatic delivers a range of styles (once again bringing up the how-do-they-do-that question) making each seem a perfectly natural fit for them.
Want some good ol' Heart hard rock? You've get it right from the top with the title song. Then there's "Mashalla" (pronounced mosh-uh-LAH) and "59 Crunch." Both cause me to wonder, as Ann hits the high notes with as much strength as she did in 1976, how can she still do that?
Blues rock, anyone? "Corduroy Road" will please you. Progressive? "A Million Miles" has more than a hint of it. Feeling folk-y? Try "Walkin' Good," to which Sarah McLachlan lends vocals and blends with Ann and Nancy so well, you'd think she was another Wilson sister. Ballad-style story songs? "Rock Deep (Vancouver)" and "Pennsylvania" are here.
Strings and things
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images
If they gave an award for best use of a string section on a rock album, Fanatic would win it. There's strings and acoustic guitar ("Walkin' Good"); strings and fuzzed up electric slide guitar ("Good Old America"). There would also be an award for best use of horns and techno-funk ("A Million Miles").
Thematically, Fanatic continues the theme established with 2010's Red Velvet Car, with a predominance of autobiographical themes. "Rock Deep (Vancouver)" recounts Heart's earliest days when they were making it big in Canada and wondering if they'd ever be able to break through south of the border. "Dear Old America" comes directly from the Wilson sisters' upbringing as military brats, daughters of a Marine Corps officer dad. "Walkin' Good" is about what Ann calls Nancy's devotion to "the idea of love and especially the idea of romantic love. There is no way you could ever convince her that it's not real."
Bests and ... other bests
It's hard to pick favorites. This is one of those rare few albums which I listen to from beginning to end each time, with no track skipping. I really like "Mashallah," probably because it reminds of early favorites like "Crazy on You" and "White Lightning and Wine." But then I like "A Million Miles" for precisely the opposite reason: musically, it isn't something you would expect, which makes it all the more fun. I wasn't sure at first what I thought about "Walkin' Good" but it has grown on me to such an extent that it would be a favorite, if I had to pick favorites. And I like "Fanatic" just because it such a good serving of that distinctive genre I call Heart rock.
Bottom line: they did it in the mid-70s, and in every decade since. The did (and do) it in their own unique way. The do it as well today as they did all those years ago. How do they do it? Don't know, don't care. Just very glad that they're still doing it, and hope they'll do it again soon!
Fanatic CD Track List
2. "Dear Old America"
3. "Walkin' Good" (featuring Sarah McLachlan)
4. "Skin And Bones"
5. "A Million Miles"
8. "Rock Deep (Vancouver)"
9. "59 Crunch"
10. "Corduroy Road"
Release date 10/2/12, Legacy Recordings, available on CD, LP, MP3