Something sweet and wild
“I always wanted to give you something sweet and wild”–the Wilson sisters ostensibly sing these words in reference to a lover, but they seem even more accurate as a statement of purpose for Heart. The band’s continued relevance after more than forty years of action is no small feat, one that Ann and Nancy have accomplished by refining this simple formula with expert precision. In Beautiful Broken, the band’s newest offering, Heart is both electrifying and experimental as it tackles its favorite themes of love and risk-fueled adventure reflected through the prisms of musical and personal maturity.
At ten tracks, the album is tight and moves with swift economy; you can digest the entire thing while your significant other watches an episode of that TV show you hate. Although much of the album defies easy classification, two main types of songs are present: ominously dark cuts hewing closer to traditional hard rock structure, and saccharine ballads tinged with psychedelic influence. The title track is of the first category, exhilarating listeners with its restless energy and hugely distorted guitars (you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re synthesizers). “Beautiful Broken” is the only song to feature male vocals alongside those of the Wilson sisters, giving the cooing about a nameless, genderless lover a fun androgynous feel.
Other tracks firmly belonging to the first category include “City’s Burning” and, a personal favorite, “I Jump.” The pounding guitar riff that attends the chorus is nestled among a soaring string instrumental, giving the song a bleak, yet surprisingly orchestral feel. Although the song is about love, as most songs on this album are, one would be forgiven for finding nods to suicidal ideation in the song title and lyrics like “I jump straight into the light.” Whether or not such nods are indicative of real emotional turmoil to which fame may have subjected the Wilson sisters, or merely their attempt to explore this fragile yet rich emotional terrain, is up to the listener.
The ballads may not crackle with the same intensity as the dark bangers, but they make up for it with an increased focus on experimentation and originality. When was the last time you heard a sitar in 2016? If you’re in the mood for Eastern vibes, “Heaven” has plenty. The song manages both to intrigue the brain and relax the nerves, with an evocative call to “lay down upon the silver grass” and “turn down the faithless voice inside.” Whether or not silver grass exists outside of Chernobyl, but everyone appreciates a chance to tune out the faithless voices that rib and undermine us.
Caveat: this album stretches the definition of what is traditionally considered an album. Only two tracks, “Two” and “I Jump,” are original. All the others are reinterpretations of classic Heart jams, mostly from their peak in the ’80s. This doesn’t detract from the album’s musical sophistication, but just be aware of what you’re getting. For the most part, the songs are smoother and more accessible than their originals, as the Wilson sisters have transitioned from musical savantry to musical wisdom with experience. However, there are moments where the new version sounds mollified compared to the rawness of the original. “Burning Cities” is one of these moments. A line like “He wanted to kill, and she wanted to die” should be shrieked, not purred.
While Heart may not have the manic intensity of previous incarnations, they stay admirably wild throughout. There are just enough sweet moments to offer emotional catharsis and prevent the album from becoming grating. The band has aged far better than most classic Heart rock–rather, hard rock–bands.