Let's be honest here. Speaking from experience, if you were a young heterosexual male in the '70s, you were probably attracted to Heart primarily because they were fronted by two very attractive young women. The fact that sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson were exceptionally talented was a bonus. They're older now (albeit no less attractive) but the wisdom of age allows us once-young men to experience a new appreciation for the musical portion of the equation.
What'll it be?
Aside from their musical and physical attributes, the lead vocalist (Ann) and principal lyricist/guitarist (Nancy) brought something stylistically new: a fusion of folk and hard rock. They also put on a whale of a live show. Their debut album (not coincidentally, released on Valentine's Day 1976) was an immediate hit, rising to #7 on the U.S. album chart. Although there would be even greater chart success among the 11 studio albums that followed, it was Dreamboat Annie that firmly established the band and produced several of what would become their signature songs: “Magic Man”, “Crazy On You” and the title track.
There were ups and downs, and a lot of turnover among the non-Wilson members of the band, but Heart are not just surviving, they're thriving in 2010. They've been touring extensively the past couple of years, and are celebrating the 34th anniversary of their first studio album with the release of their 13th, Red Velvet Car.
Based on the pre-release publicity, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It spoke of an “acoustic approach” and made much of the “assortment of strings” employed, including “guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, fiddle, cello and autoharp.” Was this going to be the Heart we've known and loved (and lusted after) all these years, or a venture into some experimental realm?
Listen to your Heart
Forget acoustic. The opening track, “There You Go” isn't raucous but it is intense, melodically and lyrically. It showcases some of that great Ann-Nancy family harmony.
After the cerebral intensity of the opening cut, “WTF” smacks you in the face with drums, electric guitar and some of Ann's best gravelly growling.
“Red Velvet Car” is pure blues. Forget the girly-girl implications of the title. It's bluesy-blues – hypnotic and, yes, sexy.
“Queen City” is a combination autobiography and tribute to the band's hometown, Seattle. The imagery of “keeping afloat in a leaky boat” is compelling.
“Hey You” is interesting because it employs multiple styles. It starts out with a bit of a country flavor, but then suddenly (but seamlessly) erupts into a '60s pop sound. The story (broken hearted lover) fits both.
My first impression of “Wheels” was that it sounded like it could be part of a movie soundtrack. Then I read an interview with Ann in which she explained that it actually evolved from a song they were “trying to write” for the movie, Midnight Run. This one keeps your attention because it makes you want to know how the story turns out.
The folk influence is much in evidence in “Safronia's Mark”, which Nancy describes as a “gypsy folk urchin song and another Seattle story.” It has a slightly supernatural quality to it that draws you in.
A rare exception is Heart
As the title implies, “Death Valley” is not a happy song. It is (in more or less equal parts) about life on the road, and the allegorical “bad trips” we all take as we stumble through life.
Nancy wrote “Sunflower” for (and about) Ann as a birthday present. Like the back story, the lyrics are touching.
“Sand” is the only song on the album that wasn't written specifically for Red Velvet Car. The Wilsons recorded it in the early '90s with an acoustic group they put together called The Lovemongers. The song is about endings, and makes a great closing track.
This album is as good as rock gets, and Heart sounds as good as they ever have.
Like most people, I have three or four favorites on any given album that are the ones I primarily listen to. Rarely does every song get equal replay. Red Velvet Car is one of those rare exceptions. About.com uses a five-star rating system for reviews. In the five years that I've been writing these reviews, I have only given one perfect score (for Bob Seger's Face the Promise.) I hereby award the second one to Heart for Red Velvet Car.