Heart - Fanatic

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 A couple months ago, Heart performed “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center to honour Led Zeppelin.  It was a terrific (if abbreviated) performance, and Jones, Page, and Plant, in attendance, listened carefully and seemed genuinely moved.


I understand from Internet buzz that Heart is now enjoying a “resurgence” or some such thing because of that performance.  

 Well – some of us don’t have to resurge.  I’ve been a Heart fan for close to forty years, and no Heart fan is surprised that the group can perform a creditable cover of a Zeppelin song.  They’ve been covering the venerable Zeps for decades.  Their first hits album, 1980’s double-record setGreatest Hits/Live, ends with a fine performance of “Rock and Roll,” and, when I finally had the chance to see the group two years ago, they essayed a devastating cover of “What is and What Should Never Be” as the first song of their encore.  Any group can cover Led Zeppelin; almost no group can sound as though doing so was a good idea.  Heart, that is, is the real deal.

The "Real" Heart?

Although I remain fondest of the 1970s albums that first made me a fan of the band, I’ve kept up with them, largely because, through their changes of style through the years and decades, two constants remain: the Wilson sisters and their talents.  The band I saw recently had only those two in common with the band that recorded Dreamboat Annie, but I never felt that I wasn’t seeing the “real Heart.”  Their albums, admittedly, have been up and down through the years (unlike those of any other band with a four-decade career, right?), but the sisters always create something worth listening to.  And I’m delighted to say that their most recent album, last year’sFanatic, isn’t just “a respectable piece of work by a good old band” but a vital, tight, tense, exciting rock-and-roll album.  My first test of a new album by an old favourite band is always this: I try to imagine somebody handing me the album and saying “Here, see what you think of this” (and of course I have to imagine further the impossible, that I wouldn’t recognize the band from its sound).  Fanatic passes that test admirably.

The Zep Influence

One of the things that I like most about the album is that Heart’s years of covering Zep have clearly infiltrated the women’s DNA.  I’m not saying that any of the songs sound like Led Zeppelin songs; however, no fan of rock music could hear such songs as “Fanatic” or “Mashallah” and not smile at the pounding beat and layered guitars and keyboards.  However, the album is delightfully varied, too, including a collaboration with Sarah McLachlan (“Walkin’ Good”), an ultra-modern “train blues” song (some cool synthesizer modernizing the traditional lyrics), “A Million Miles,” and a lovely duet between Ann’s voice and Nancy’s guitar (listen to it if you don’t believe me), “Pennsylvania."


Then there’s the production.  It’s so good, so appropriate to the songs, that it is itself almost another instrument, and I’m delighted to be able to praise in passing the producer, Ben Mink.  I suppose he’s now best known as a long-time collaborator with k.d. lang, but some of us prefer to emphasize his ultra-Canadian progressive-rock credibility.   He played in the early eighties with the before-their-time trioFM; he was one of the first (still rare) guest musicians to appear on a Rush album, playing electric violin on the gorgeous 1982 song “Losing It”; and he was Geddy Lee’s guitarist and producer on the bassist’s 2000 solo album, My Favourite Headache.  His work onFanatic is simply a treat to listen to: every instrument gets its due, but every instrument is also subjugated to the demand of every song.  It’s a virtuoso production job, and the songs deserve it.

Sure, I’m a fan.  But I like to think I can tell when a band is past its sell-by date (although I’m such a loyal fan of the bands I love – all five thousand or so of them – that I’ll often find that fact hard to admit).  It just warms my heart when a band that could either retire or work the oldies circuit with true credibility can still put out a fine, solid, satisfying rock-and-roll album like Fanatic.


Check out our review of 1987′s Bad Animals and their website, http://www.heart-music.com

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