Unless you live under a rock, or don’t listen to much of that breed of music, you already know there’s a bumper crop of Heart arriving in 2012. This past June, the box set Strange Euphoriaoffered fans a revealing history lesson into the songs of Ann and Nancy Wilson, from the beginning until 2010’s Red Velvet Car. Likewise, their new memoir, Kicking and Dreaming, is getting the full press treatment. No surprise, the Wilson sisters are appearing on every venue possible to plug their book, which arrived just one month before their 14th studio album, Fanatic. Despite the fact that it’s a collection of new material, in many ways Fanatic is another look back to Heart’s past, both musically and lyrically.
Of course, Heart’s pioneering days are long, long behind them. In the '70s, their breakthrough was more about their gender than their music as they punched major holes in the old boy’s glass ceiling. However, after “Barracuda,” their musical direction wasn’t always steady. They became more imitators than trendsetters during their synth-driven pop era of the ‘80s. But those days, too, are long over.
Now, according to an interview with Eddie Trunk on That Metal Show, both Wilsons said the point of Fanatic was to return to harder edged rock. They succeeded in their mission. Recorded in hotel rooms and West Coast studios with producer and guitarist Ben Mink, the spirit of Fanatic is demonstrated in the squealing, raunchy notes of Nancy’s guitar on the title track. Oh yes, this is the same duo who gave us Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen. The main difference is the lyrics. Many of these stories, in their words, are told with “old eyes.”
True, there are lots of strings, the kind not stretched on electrified axes, even in the hard edged “Dear Old America” and the softer “Walkin’ Good.” The former, the most discussed track on the album, involves memories of a military household from their father’s point of view. The latter is a duet between Nancy and Vancouver B.C.’s Sarah McLachlan about “ordinary blues” in newly satisfying lives. Speaking of that Canadian town, “Rock Deep (Vancouver)” is a nostalgic look back at the hometown of a little album called Dreamboat Annie.
But in the main, this is a collection of infectious melodies with the knobs turned up. “Skin and Bones,” for example, is raw and wry with some classic ‘70s Zeppelin-esque rhythmic changes. Anyone remember the folk song “500 Miles"? Heart’s “Million Miles” expands that old train ride quite a bit while showing they can create pop without falling into the excesses of their ‘80s work. ”59 Crunch” is how one goes about composing a, well, crunchin' rock and roll number. That process results in tracks like “”Mashallah” and the set’s grand finale, “Corduroy Road.”
The 10 songs of the too short Fanatic (only 39 minutes) aren’t going to inspire many award nominations, but they certainly warrant and are getting considerable airplay. It’s something of a full circle album, and fans who lost track of Heart after the early years now have good reason to go crazy with the magic women again. It might be “old eyes” behind this set, but this is rock and roll medicine that’s good for all ages.