By: Geoff Topley
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Released on July 8, 2016 via Concord Records
American hard rockers Heart will forever be known to the masses as the band who had their biggest hits in the late 80s/early 90s around the time of the big hair rock revival. Fronted by the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, they have had an enduring career (35 million albums sold) that has lasted since their debut in 1977. Only through writing this review have I realised that they have been releasing albums in the 2000s, though commercial success has eluded them. Can’t lie, my knowledge of their recorded output is limited to the hits era, I even ventured to see them in concert on the Brigade tour, way back in 1990. So here they are in 2016, back with a new album entitled Beautiful Broken, a collection of new songs and some reworking of old tracks.
Perhaps something of an oddity appearing on a website such as this, it’s up to me to provide a little critical analysis of what is essentially a hard rock album, with both feet firmly planted in MOR rock soil. The album is not going to pitch up any surprises, no dips into experimentalism or anything remotely approaching modern genres. My early record collection contains a lot of music from the glam rock era, the music from my teenage years primarily focussed on metal and rock, so I can listen to this with a head full of nostalgia, thankfully my musical leanings are more expansive nowadays.
Enlisting James Hetfield on the title track, ‘Beautiful Broken’, which originally appeared on 2012’s Fanatic album, adds little or no value to the appeal of the song. He randomly interjects some aggression into the album’s most rocking and romping song, but as an opener, it might act as a deterrent to listen to any more of the album. It’s also a red herring as the rest of the album takes it down several notches.
Heart don’t hang about getting round to the sound they are best known for with ‘Two’, a track co-written with hip hop artist Ne-Yo (never heard of him). A very melodic and BIG ballad, it’s now that you realise that Ann Wilson is still blessed with a tremendous set of pipes. The voice that propelled those big 80/90s hits ‘Alone’ and ‘All I Want to Do is Make Love to You’ is as strong as ever. Unlike a lot of today’s modern singers, Ann doesn’t overdo the histrionics, only when called for, I commend her for this. It means you can listen to more than 3 songs in one sitting (here’s looking at you Adele) without wanting to press stop. If there is any chance of grabbing a random hit, this is the song to do it with.
Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks on this album sound weary and tired, with steady hard rock instrumentation and no frills. Tracks like ‘Sweet Darlin’ (from 1980 album Bebe Le Strange) are loaded with strings and shiny production, though it does feature a stellar vocal turn. Another old tune ‘Johnny Moon’ (from Passionworks) might have some curious chord changes but the pace is so slow the end of the song seems miles away. The ‘Kashmir’ thieving ‘I Jump’ with Zeppelinesque riffs, drums and eastern strings has an awkward clash between a syrupy verse and roaring chorus. It comes across as two tracks welded together.
The eastern theme appears again on ‘Heaven’ adding some psychedelic nuances, though you have to remember this is Heart, not Acid Mothers Temple. The swinging groove and thumping drums on ‘City’s Burning’ offer up another rocking number but ultimately, the replay value is diminished because of the generic melody lines. Different styles are approached with the blues tinged ‘Down on Me’ (featuring an impassioned vocal performance) and the mellow jazzy leanings of ‘One Word’. But the songs aren’t in the same category as some of Heart’s successful moments. Ending with the sugary remake of ‘Language of Love’, which is lovingly sung but too sweet to enjoy, I found it the aural equivalent of beige wallpaper.
Quite why Heart continue to make music can only be for a diehard fan base, I can’t see there being any commercial success from Beautiful Broken, save for some freak tie-in to a movie or TV show using one of the big ballads. The album isn’t particularly bad, but they very much stick to what they know and music has diversified so much nowadays. After bathing in the saccharine waters of this album, I want to go and jump headfirst into a dirty Lightning Bolt quagmire to get some redemption.