Heart – Beautiful Broken (review)

Heart – Beautiful Broken (Concord) review

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Heart is still putting out great music

There is no precedent for this.  While all of their contemporaries have either slowed down, mellowed out or given up, Heart has continued to rock with the same vivacity that initially made them stars four decades ago.  Beautiful Broken, the band’s sixteenth album, continues a string of strong albums that began with 2010’s Red Velvet Car.

For proof, just give a listen to the opening track (and first single), “Beautiful Broken,”  a perfect blend of classic and modern elements.  Ann Wilson’s voice, the guitar and keyboard solos, all sound straight out of the Dreamboat Annie-era, but they’re melded onto a blistering, off-kilter guitar riff and bolstered by additional vocals by James Hetfield of Metallica.  The whole song is a quick rush – clocking in at a lean 2:26.

For several of the tracks on the new record, Heart decided to dig through their deep catalog and pick songs that they were never pleased with the first time around.  The result is two songs each from transitional, early Eighties’ LP’s Bebe Le Strange, Passionworks and Private Audition, and every one of them an improvement.  “Sweet Darlin’” (originally from Bebe) features a grittier, more honest vocal from Ann and gorgeous strings from Paul Buckmaster, who worked his magic as far back as early Elton John albums like Madman Across the Water.

Another highlight is “City’s Burning,” which originally led off Private Audition.  The 1982 version sounds like they were trying to get through the song as quickly as possible, where this revisit is slower, darker, yet richer in colors (again, thanks in part to Buckmaster’s strings).  “Johnny Moon,” from 1983’s Passionworks, had dated synth drums in the original.  Stripped of that, and adding piano and backward guitar, the track is breathtaking.

“Language of Love” gets the biggest makeover – a sub-par, forgotten album track (also from Passionworks) is transformed into one of Heart’s most sultry ballads, complete with great harmonies on the chorus – proving that sexual passion has no age restriction.

And, perhaps to show that they still can handle challenges, one of the new songs,“Two,” comes from an unlikely source – modern R&B artist Ne-Yo, and features a heartfelt vocal from Nancy Wilson.

Equally impressive is the fact that the sisters have now released three stellar albums in the course of six years (2010’s Red Velvet Car, and 2012’s Fanatic are the other two) – a musical hat trick at a time when most artists have difficulty creating even one decent song.  And make no mistake, these albums aren’t just place holders, or something to sell at shows; they rank as good as any of their classic 70’s & 80’s material.

Any fan of Heart will love this record.  But, deeper than that: if you’re a rock fan who misses the thrill of putting on a great new record that actually speaks to you – Beautiful Broken is for you.
—Tony Peters