Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Heart Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Bad Animals (1987, Capitol)

A –

Wisely not messing with the formula that put the band back on top, you could technically accuse Heart of being a bit too by-the-numbers here, but when the band’s choice in material is nearly every bit as strong here as it was on the last disc, it’s petty to complain. The disc opens on a powerful note with the muscular rock of “Who Will You Run To,” penned by the then-up-and-coming Diane Warren long before she came the go-to writer of the ‘90s for overly dramatic ballads like Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” [Warren is capable of writing appealing up-tempo cuts, though, as proved by songs like “Who Will You Run To,” Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” or DeBarge’s lovely “Rhythm of the Night.”] The power ballad “Alone” (penned by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the ace songwriting duo also responsible for penning Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” and the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”) proves to be a perfect showcase for Ann Wilson’s powerful voice and would deservedly become the band’s second Number One hit and the biggest of its career. But Ann and Nancy are writing fine material of their own again, and the beautiful “There’s the Girl” (penned by Nancy with Holly Knight and which just barely missed the Top Ten) is an undeniable highlight and remains one of the most underrated singles of their career. The disc is just a tad less consistent than its predecessor, but there are good songs here beyond just the three Top 40 hits, particularly “I Want You So Bad” (also penned by Steinberg and Kelly) and “Wait for an Answer” (penned by Lisa Del Ballo, Boz Scaggs’ duet partner on “Miss Sun” and the writer of Melissa Manchester’s underrated “Pretty Girls.”)

Brigade (1990, Capitol)

B –

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed by Brigade, the band’s first outing of the Nineties. It doesn’t technically sound all that different from Heart or Bad Animals (albeit a tad less pop and a tad more hair-metal), nor is it a bad album. It’s simply just a bit too power-ballad-heavy for its own good, and while there are still some up-tempo cuts, what the disc really could have used is one or two up-tempo hit singles here in the vein of “Never” or “There’s the Girl” to make the album seem more varied to more casual fans of the band basing their album purchases on the strength of the singles. Still, even if the singles are largely all in the same vein, they are good songs, and there are three Top 40 hits here, including the “Mutt” Lange-penned “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (which stopped just one spot shy of reaching Number One and was allegedly originally offered to – but turned down by – Don Henley), the bombastic ballad “I Didn’t Want to Need You,” and, best of all, the lovely, Nancy-sung “Stranded.” “Call of the Wild,” “Fallen from Grace” (co-written with Sammy Hagar), and “Wild Child” are also fairly good cuts.  

Desire Walks On (1993, Capitol)

C

Andes has departed by this point, and the Wilson sisters are the only ones featured on the album’s front cover, so you can be forgiven for feeling as if Heart is no longer a proper band at this point so much as it is a duo of Ann and Nancy. (Indeed, both Denny Carmassi and Howard Leese would leave the band shortly afterwards.) The album still sounds like Heart, though, and it’s a lot like the power-ballad-heavy Brigade except with less catchy songs, the déjà vu feeling not helped any by the fact that this is the band’s second album in a row to boast a lead-off single penned by Robert John “Mutt” Lange – in this case, “Will You Be There (in the Morning),” the hook of which sounds so much like Brigade singles like “I Didn’t Want to Need You” or “Stranded,” that you could nearly cut-and-paste the choruses of any of them into one of the other two and not have casual fans notice the difference. Elsewhere, the band covers Donna Summer (“The Woman in Me”) and Dylan (“Ring Them Bells,” which boasts a guest turn from Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley), which, for a band that typically shies away from covers on its studio albums, is not an encouraging sign, either. But it’s not a dreadful album, either, and merely just feels like a spotty transitional effort a la Passionworks, and there are some decent cuts here, particularly the aforementioned “Will You Be There,” “Back to Avalon,” and “In Walks the Night,” while fans of the band’s harder side will enjoy the guitar riffs of “Black on Black II.” 

Jupiter’s Darling (2004, Sovereign)

B +

The band’s first studio album in eleven years – and its first with no members from any of the ‘70s or ‘80s lineups remaining except for Ann and Nancy – will likely only be of so much interest to more casual fans of the band (there are no hits here, nor on any of the albums that follow it, the band’s fortunes on the singles charts having ceased after 1993), but this is not only a fine rebound from Desire Walks On, it’s arguably the best they’ve done since Bad Animals. There’s nothing here quite as immediately hooky as “Alone” or “There’s the Girl,” but the band – if you can still call it that – sounds creatively rejuvenated, and they’ve also thankfully abandoned the obsession with power ballads that plagued their two studio outings of the Nineties. The piano-and-mandolin-drenched ballad “I Need the Rain” (arguably the best cut here), the Indian-tinged “Led to One” (featuring a guest cameo from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready), and the acoustic stomp of “Things” – all three sung by Nancy – are major highlights, as are “Vainglorious,” the rocker “Fallen Ones” (featuring Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell), the epic ballad “Lost Angel,” and “The Perfect Goodbye.” The album also ends on a stunning note with the gorgeous harmonies of the acoustic “Hello Moonglow.” It’s just a shame this album came out on an indie, because it didn’t get nearly the promotion that it deserved.

Red Velvet Car (2010, Sony Legacy)

B –

It’s not quite as appealing as its predecessor and the hooks aren’t as immediate as last time out, but Heart continues its artistic comeback alive with this fine latter-day outing. “Safronia’s Mark” is the catchiest song here, while other highlights include “Wheels,” the folk-tinged “Sand,” the vaguely country-like, Nancy-sung “Hey You,” and the swampy acoustic crunch of “There You Go.” 

Fanatic (2012, Sony Legacy)

C

Neither great nor bad, Fanatic has its fabulous moments, but it also finds the band tinkering too much with their winning formula and engaging in some experiments that just do not work at all and end up detracting in a big way from the album. First, the good: when the disc rocks, it rocks, and the Led Zeppelin-ish “Mashallah” is fantastic, as are the slow blues crunch of the title cut and the fast, gritty “59 Crunch,” the catchiest tune here. But “Rock Hard (Vancouver)” is as sappy as any of Ringo Starr’s countless musical odes to Liverpool, the arrangement of “Million Miles” makes it sounds too much like a club track for comfort, and “Walkin’ Good” just sounds all wrong for a Heart album, not in the least because it’s ill-advisedly performed as a duet with Sarah McLachlan. The better moments here are certainly worth hearing, but overall, this is the band’s spottiest outing since Desire Walks On.  [The deluxe version of the disc is preferable, since one of the added cuts is the great “Beautiful Broken,” co-written with, unexpectedly enough, Metallica’s James Hetfield.]

Beautiful Broken (2016, Concord)

C –

Easily the most head-scratching album the band has made since Magazine, this album primarily consists of re-recordings of songs from the band’s back catalog that the Wilsons felt merited more attention. They’re well-done, but there was nothing wrong with the original versions of any of these songs, so it just seems entirely unnecessary. [The best in the bunch are “Heaven,” previously only available as a live recording; a slowed-down, bluesier take on Bebe Le Strange’s “Down on Me”; and the vaguely Elton John-like Bebe Le Strange ballad “Sweet Darlin’.”] There are only two new songs here: the heavily-orchestrated rocker “I Jump,” which could nearly pass for film score music, and the Nancy-sung ballad “Two,” written by, strangely enough, Ne-Yo. [No, I swear I’m not making that up.] They’re good songs, particularly “Two,” but they don’t really justify buying a disc otherwise comprised of good-but-ultimately-unnecessary re-recordings, and if it’s a latter-era Heart disc you’re after, you’re much better off sticking with Jupiter’s Darling or Red Velvet Car.

Compilations:

There are several one-disc packages available to choose from, but because the band recorded for a variety of labels (Mushroom, Portrait/Epic, and Capitol), they only cover one era of the band or substitute live versions for the original studio recordings due to licensing issues, so none of them are truly comprehensive, and your best bet is to spring for Sony/Legacy’s fantastic 2002 double-disc set The Essential Heart, which includes every last one of the band’s twenty Top 40 hits (including their Top Ten cover of Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is,” which never appeared on a proper studio album and was added as sales bait to 1980’s Greatest Hits/Live) and does a fairly good job of picking out lesser hits (“Dreamboat Annie,” “Little Queen,” “How Can I Refuse”) and essential album cuts (“Love Alive.”) “City’s Burning,” “Bebe Le Strange,” and “Dream of the Archer” are sadly all absent, but the three-disc 2008 reissue includes all three, so pick up that edition if you can find it.  

Live Albums:

The band’s first live album, 1980’s Greatest Hits/Live, is actually misleading; the first disc is a standard hits package, while the second disc is an odds-and-ends assortment of three new studio recordings (including the very strange and ironically uncommercial “Hit Single” and the Aaron Neville cover “Tell It Like It Is”) and six live recordings, half of them covers. There are plenty of alternatives to choose from, but the most worthwhile is easily the 1995 John Paul Jones-produced The Road Home, which finds the band performing a small, intimate acoustic club show in Seattle; naturally, it’s not representative of your average Heart concert, but it’s incredibly eye-opening to hear the songs performed this way, and “Straight On,” “Barracuda,” and “Crazy on You” sound surprisingly good in “unplugged” form, while the band strips all the bombast from power ballads like “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (re-worked here as a slow piano ballad), “Alone,” and “These Dreams” (chillingly performed here with a small string section and with subtle percussion replacing the arena-sized drums) to jaw-dropping, goose-bump-inducing effect. The band also unexpectedly throws in covers of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Elton John’s “Seasons” that might be the loveliest covers they’ve ever committed to record. If you’ve always considered Heart to be too bombastic for your own tastes, give this disc a shot; it might completely change your opinion of the band to hear the songs played this way. It’s truly one of the best “unplugged”-style live albums you’ll ever hear.