Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Heart Fanatic

I discovered the band Heart in 1986. Sure, they had been around for a decade by this point, but they had been pretty much ignored or overlooked by UK radio stations until 'These Dreams' came along and broke into radio playlists, if not actually the UK top 40 singles chart. I quite liked the song. Soon after this I discovered their 1985 self-titled album in my local audio library. I borrowed it. Nobody had recommended it to me, nobody had mentioned it, I had never heard a review, I had only heard one track on it.

From the first listen, I loved it. 

For a teenage boy in 1986 it was the ultimate rock album. It was perfectly of its time and virtually every song was great. By the time I had to return the album to the library I had probably listened to it about 50 times. I had become a Heart fanatic.

The next few months became a frantic search for other albums by Heart. Rumour had it that their earlier material was quite unlike this album and I might not like it. So I couldn't just rush out and buy the early stuff. And besides, funds were limited. But nobody in my circle of friends had heard anything before 1985. Eventually, it turned out that the big brother of one of my classmates (hello Andy Ketchin) had two tapes by Heart, so I finally got to hear the albums 'Magazine' and 'Dog and Butterfly' (both from 1978). I loved them too. Whew. I could take the risk and buy some of the earlier albums.

By this time I also had a bootleg concert of Heart live at the NHK Hall in Tokyo from 25th June 1986 so I knew a few songs from the early albums. Thus 'Little Queen' (1977) featuring the classic Barracuda was first on my purchase list. What an amazing album - it quickly became my 2nd favourite Heart album, a position it has probably retained from that day to this, despite the number 1 place having changed since then!

Over the space of the next six months I bought 'Dreamboat Annie' (1976), 'Dog and Butterfly' and 'Magazine' (got it really cheap at a record fair). Despite them being considerably more expensive than most LPs in my local record shops, I eventually gave in to temptation and bought 'Bebe le Strange' and 'Greatest Hits / Live' ( both 1980). Bebe le Strange was a disappointment. While its not a bad album, its not a great one either. Sure, it has some great tracks on it, but quite a few lower quality ones too.

I had heard tale, by this point, of an album called 'Private Audition' that came after Bebe le Strange, but all I had heard about it was that it was weird and not very good. You have to remember that this is all way before the internet, Spotify, Wikipedia, etc. The only way you could hear rock music back then was if someone you knew had it, or if Tommy Vance played it on his Friday night rock show (sigh, nostalgia). I also knew there was a song I really liked on the NHK bootleg called 'Allies' but it wasn't on any of the albums I'd heard of.

1987 brought the release of a new Heart album, 'Bad Animals'. I think I did buy it on the day of release. At the time it seemed great, but time has not been too kind to this album. However, the commercial success of Bad Animals in the UK meant that record stores started stocking all the Heart back catalogue. 'Private Audition' (1982) and a previously unheard of (by me, at least) album 'Passionworks' (1983) appeared in stores and were quickly bought by me. Private Audition wasn't as weird or bad as I'd been led to believe, but Passionworks was brilliant - here's where that song 'Allies' came from. Its basically the precursor to the 1985 Heart album, and pretty much in the same vein. For a while it became my number 1 favourite Heart album. When Heart toured the UK in 1988, I managed to get the sleeve of Passionworks signed by all three male members of the band, but sadly not by Ann or Nancy.

So by the time I left school in 1988, I had all the Heart albums on vinyl, most of the 12" singles, a few 7" singles, a wall covered in Heart posters and a well worn and much loved Heart tour t-shirt.

I have to admit things began to cool off between me and Heart from then on in. 'Brigade' (1990) came on the back of a couple of Mutt Lange written power ballads that I didn't much like, and which spoiled the whole album for me. The 1991 live album 'Rock the house: Live' was nothing special, so when 'Desire walks on' came along in 1993, I didn't even buy it. Besides, by then grunge had come along and killed big hair, big shoulders, power ballad rock. The obligatory post-grunge acoustic live album 'The Road Home' didn't interest me at the time. It looked like it was all over for Heart. And so it was...

... until 2004 when Heart returned with their best album so far. 'Jupiter's Darling' came with no expectations at all. I went to see them on the 2004 UK tour for a bit of nostalgia and came out from a fantastic gig absolutely desperate to buy the new album. 8 years on and it is probably still one of my favourite albums by anyone, certainly my favourite Heart album, and definitely my favourite album from the whole decade of the 2000s!

Their next release, 'Red Velvet Car' (2010) came with expectations and didn't quite live up to them. It is not a bad album. I'd go as far as to say its quite good. But the problem is, its only that, quite good.

So I was unsure what to expect from the brand new release 'Fanatic', which came out this week. I kind of expected a disappointment. I knew it couldn't be as good as Jupiter's Darling. I hoped it would be quite good. The cover art suggests an album that has been knocked out quickly, which is not a good start. The running time is short (39 minutes), which sent alarm bells ringing. And the guitarist who seemed to inject new life into Heart to help bring about the greatness that is Jupiter's Darling, Craig Bartock, was not involved with the album at all. But I bought it anyway.

I'm glad I did. It rocks. It rawks! Whereas Red Velvet Car kind of washes over you, Fanatic grabs you by various body parts and drags you into the midst of raw distorted guitars, heavy riffs, classic rock hooks and plain, simple and pure-distilled-essence-of-rock drums. This album wears its heart on its sleeve. Ann and Nancy have always admitted to being huge Led Zep fans, but here they do the classic imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery thing and just put all their Zep fandom into song. They admit as much on the title track, which not only states that they are Fanatics, but it riffs on the Misty Mountain Hop riff, just in case you didn't get the point. Page and Plant should be proud of their illegitimate offspring.

But its not just classic rock, loud guitars, and Plantesque screaming. There's so much more. There's something for everyone here. How this album manages that in only 39 minutes is a mystery to me, but it does it. Ballads, acoustic bits, funky bits, loud bits, quiet bits, moving bits and soothing bits. On the first couple of listens 'Million Miles' stood out as the best thing in here, but on subsequent listens everything else seems to have risen up to the same level. Its all great.

So there you have it. Heart's best album since 2004, probably one of the top 5 of their career, and the most enjoyable album I've bought this year so far.

Listen. You'll probably like it.

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