There’s a deeply personal feel to this new album, and a grinding loudness. That incompatible juxtaposition can make for a difficult entry into Heart’s forthcoming album Fanatic.
It is, on its face, a confessional recording. There’s “Dear Old America,” which traces the story of a soldier returning after war, a thematic line that goes back to the Wilson sisters’ father and his time as a Marine. The nostalgic “Rock Deep (Vancouver)” references Heart’s pre-stardom days in Canada. The title track has the feel of long-held revelation. That sense of introspection, in a way, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — considering the two major projects that proceeded Fanatic: The career-spanning anthology Strange Euphoria and Heart’s emotional biography Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll.
But, at the same time, Fanatic — due October 2, 2012 from Legacy — is the heaviest recording that Heart has ever produced, with torrents of guitars rushing out around these thunderous rhythms. Those who are looking to rock out might be distracted by the sharply confessional musings. Those looking for a singer-songwriter vibe will end up with their hair in a tangled mess from the noise.
Keep listening, though, and Heart ultimately bridges the gap between both sets of expectations, crafting songs that continue to mature into something more over repeated sittings.
Producer Ben Mink, who also worked on Heart’s 2010 comeback recording Red Velvet Car, has done much to capture the fire and energy of their flintiest early moments — even if no one, unfortunately, can quite replicate the presence of lead guitarist Roger Fisher. Dig deeper into the project, and these deft modern touches begin to reveal themselves, as well.
For instance, the double-time cadence in the middle of “Dear Old America” — which, to my ear, seemed to recall Heart’s early fascination with Led Zeppelin — was actually the result of a computer tempo error. Everyone liked the mistake so much, however, that they left it in, and built something even better on top of it. The earliest demo of “Skin and Bones,” this nasty little blues, was originally recorded during a moment of inspiration onto an iPhone, and you can hear a snippet of that on the album, as well. Taken together, they keep Fanatic from sounding like a cob-webbed throwback, even while establishing an atmosphere that feels loose and live.
The difficulty must have been in weaving all of this together into something that didn’t sound gimmicky, or like the Wilsons were trying too hard — and in that regard Heart’s Fanatic enjoys complete success. Many of the songs clearly grew out of lengthy conversations, from raw emotion and real caring. That sense of communal purpose can be found everywhere on Fanatic, even if it takes a while to fully appreciate the album’s deeper complexities.