Heart – Fanatic (2012)

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.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Apparently, Eddie and Alex Van Halen once proposed a four-way with the Wilson sisters. How is David Lee Roth not involved with this story?]

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.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Heart. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

HEART – STRANGE EUPHORIA (2012): Heart, like many legacy bands in the 1980s, struggled to marry its original sound with the synthesized style of the day. Strange Euphoria, a sweeping new compilation from Epic-Legacy, charts that journey, as Heart transforms itself from hippie-chick singer-songwriters, to feminist heavy rockers, to glossy MTV stars, and back again. Heart, like the title of this endlessly fascinating new box set, still boasts an abiding, very involving complexity. It’s good to be reminded.

HEART – RED VELVET CAR (2010): The first thing that’s evident from listening to Red Velvet Car is that in contrast to Clapton, the Wilson sisters are as rooted in the present-day sounds as they are to the music of the past, and maybe even more so. The second thing is that Ann Wilson’s voice is finally beginning to falter a bit: she’s lost some of her incredible range and there’s a residue of rasp in it that wasn’t there before. Those are two things that put this album below the level of their last one, 2006’s Jupiter’s Darling. On the other hand, Nancy’s power acoustic guitar remains in fine form, and she can still more than hold her own when battling crashing electric guitars for sonic space.

HEART – GREATEST HITS (1998; 2011 Audio Fidelity Remaster): The distractions when it comes to Heart (gender politics, obvious curtsies to Led Zeppelin, wall-to-wall 1980s power-ballads, etc.) are swept away with this single turned-up-to-11 instrumental interlude during “Magic Man.” I’m struck all over again by guitarist Roger Fisher’s ever-increasing distortion, just before a smeared prog rock-influenced keyboard descends from the heavens. Heart’s “Magic Man” (a No. 9 hit in 1976) has, right there inside of it, this brilliant piece of in-the-moment, well, magic — unlikely to happen again in the age of auto-tune, but buried for decades in a muddy pre-digital mix. Now, this small joy has been spit-shined into a revelatory moment, and it’s almost worth the price of admission itself. This band, you quickly realize all over again, wasn’t led by a couple of Girls Who Rocked. They were, simply, rockers. And very good ones, at that.

DEEP CUTS: HEART, “LOVE ALIVE” (1977): Coming right after the hard-charging “Barracuda,” the sisters ease up on the tempo a bit but not at all on the quality. “Love Alive” runs only a little over four minutes, but it’s a three-parter. The soft beginning kicks off with a winsome acoustic guitar motif, played in tandem by Nancy and (most probably) Roger Fisher. As Ann’s gentle, controlled and low-octave vocals begin, some Indian percussion joins in as well. Her first and second and verse is separated by a short flute interlude…also performed by Ann. Hard rock can sometimes get a little rough around the edges, and it needs a woman’s touch to smooth it out just a tad. There’s probably no women better for that job than the Wilson women when they are on their game like they are for “Love Alive.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
  • JC Mosquito

    Ben Mink also produced 2007’s Hope and Glory, Ann Wilson’s solo album of mostly covers. A bit of hit and miss affair, but The Youngblood’s “Darkness Darkness” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” both get deconstructed and cobbled back together in productions very different from the originals, yet they still work. After hearing a couple of samples from Fanatic, it proves that Ben Mink can apparently produce any genre of music. This album is quite heavy, and that’s appropriate. I’ve always said Heart ought to be the only band allowed to cover Led Zeppelin tunes – and from the few tracks I’ve heard on Fanatic, the girls from the Pacific coast give the boys from across the Atlantic a sonic run for their money.