Heart – Beautiful Broken (2016)

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Since the 1975 release of their debut LP Steamboat Annie, Heart has forged their own path in rock history. Founders Ann and Nancy Wilson shattered gender stereotypes with their hard-charging style, earning the respect of the then male-dominated world of hard rock. More than 40 years later, they look back on their career with Beautiful Broken, a mix of new material and their revisions of songs originally recorded between 1980 and 1983. What truly stands out is the enduring power of Ann’s voice and Nancy’s still furious guitar work.

The album kicks of with the title track, a new version of a bonus song from Heart’s previous release Fanatic. Metallica’s James Hetfield joins the sisters (and cowrote new lyrics) for a pounding rendition. Hetfield and Ann Wilson’s voices meld perfectly together, suggesting that Heart and Metallica should consider collaborating on future projects. Ben Smith’s steady but powerful drums also deserve a mention on this standout.

Other new songs include “Two,” a mid-tempo track written by hit composer Ne-Yo. Nancy Wilson takes over on lead vocals, revealing a fragility rarely seen in the otherwise aggressive band. While the lyrics address a love affair, they could easily describe the tight creative partnership the Wilson sisters have enjoyed for four decades. “Let the world fade right out of view / And that’s all right with me / ‘Cause all there needs to be / Is two,” Nancy tenderly sings. The “us against the world” theme perfectly summarizes the journey the two musicians have traveled.

As evidenced in their rousing 2012 Kennedy Center Honors cover of “Stairway to Heaven,” Heart counts Led Zeppelin as a major influence. Thus, “I Jump” could have easily been recorded by the British band. The brooding mood, lavish string section, and Ann’s raspy but soaring voice sounds reminiscent of “Immigrant Song” and “Kashmir,” but “I Jump” is not mere imitation. It pays tribute to Heart’s early roots, before they changed to a pop-oriented sound in the 1980s. Today, they clearly revel in their past, and “I Jump” stands as a stellar example.

For Beautiful Broken, the Wilson sisters also decided to revisit early tracks. This can be a risky proposition — original versions often cannot be improved upon — but Heart brings experience and a changed perspective to the songs.

The new arrangements add a psychedelic edge to the Passionworks cut “Johnny Moon.” (Interestingly, the chord changes on the line “I wanna feel that high” resemble jazzy Steely Dan sounds.) “Language of Love” reveals tenderness, accented by the Wilson sisters’ flawless harmonies as well as delicate acoustic guitar. The Bebe Le Strange track “Down on Me” takes on a bluesy tone, again paying tribute to Heart’s beginnings. Ann’s voice has not lost any of its power, instead gaining resonance and deeper emotion with time.

“City’s Burning,” from Private Audition, benefits from strings, subtle but effective keyboards, and passionate vocals courtesy of the Wilsons. “One Word” takes on a slight Latin feel with its shuffling percussion and sultry acoustic guitar-driven rhythm.

As Beautiful Broken demonstrates, some artists get better with age. Heart’s commitment to producing quality hard rock remains consistent, and this new release will satisfy their longtime fans. In addition, newer generations should sample this project to fully appreciate Heart’s unique contribution to music. Beautiful Broken, to put it simply, rocks.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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