When Heart released their debut album, Dreamboat Annie way back in 1975 they redefined rock music. Fusing folk, blues and hard rock was nothing new, but at the centre of the band were sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Their music was characterised by close blood harmonies, acoustic and electric instrumentation, progressive musical elements and Ann's amazing vocal abilities which brought an emotive, husky, sexy, soulful, feminine edge to the masculine genre and helped pave the way for women in rock music.
For their sixteenth studio album, the band have chosen to reimagine some of their early 80s material from the albums Passionworks, Bébé le Strange and Private Audition. The sisters decision to revisit their favourite songs from the period is based on their dissatisfaction with the production and the desire to re-connect with them emotionally in a similar way that Kate Bush did with Directors Cut. For Ann, it was a chance to re-sing tracks that “never reached their full development” and for Nancy, it was a chance to get to the “emotional core of each song.” On both counts they have succeeded and given the songs a new lease of life, allowing them to achieve their full musical potential.
The thing that's most noticeable is the stripped back arrangements of the songs that allow the melody and lyrical elements to shine through. The dominance of the over-produced 80s sound is now absent meaning the band can return to their signature style giving a chance for fans to reconnect with some of the most popular songs from the Heart back catalogue.
The title track is the most recent to get a makeover. Taken from 2012's Frantic, Broken Beautiful – the redux version - features Metallica's James Hetfield on vocals. It hasn't changed enormously from the original, but having Ann and James go head to head vocally with the addition of a pumped up guitar sound, certainly makes an exciting aural adventure. The dreamy romance of Two, written by R & B star Ne-Yo instantly reminds us of Nancy's ability to get right to the middle of a ballad in the way that not many vocalists can. I Jump harks back to the classic Heart period with soaring melodies, raw energy, Led Zeppelin inspired twists and turns (aided by Paul Buckmaster's Kashmir influenced string orchestration), yet the thrashier guitar sound makes it contemporary too.
Sweet Darlin benefits from the maturity of Ann's performance and the subtle strings add a more honest tone to this retrospective. Johnny Moon gets a heavier, blues-based focus with a vocal that surpasses the original. The added 30 plus years of life experience for the sisters adds so much gravitas to the meaning of the songs that it simply oozes out of every track.
City's Burning is an incendiary look back at a firm favourite from the Private Audition album. It's another song that has benefited by a rethink and the sands of time. The track is now slowed down, given a change of key and has been reinvigorated with a natural swagger that doesn't try so hard to prove itself as a track, it just works. Language of Love throws away the 80s rock backing and animal sexuality by restructuring it as a tender love song 'with no cliches and tired rhymes.' It's made even more yearning by Buckmaster's pulsating staccato and undulating string arrangement. It's a heady and sophisticated way to close the album.
The artistic reworking of the tracks will certainly add to Heart's credibility for attracting a new audience, whilst life long fans will enjoy picking over the differences between the old and the new. The album more than proves the timeless quality of a great song and the new arrangements have made the songs even more beautiful. Hopefully, that which was 'broken' has been fixed to the satisfaction of the Wilson sisters.
Groupie Rating 5/5