Heart–Bad Animals

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 61% (7 Votes)

My fellow reviewer is often amazed at the breadth of my musical taste. (That’s not quite how he puts it – but let’s assume that “amazed” and “breadth” are what his comments really reflect.)  But it’s true that I like all sorts of music.  I am even (time for that oh-so-twenty-first-century rhetorical gesture, “full disclosure”) fond of a lot of what now is variously dismissed as “hair metal” or “eighties arena rock.”  

Maybe that’s because, in my early twenties, I went to a  lot of concerts in arenas, and, well, you know, most of them were really, really good.  Look, I’ve sat in small halls and been wowed by people like Bruce CockburnSarah Harmer, even that great veteran songwriter and performer Jerry Jeff Walker; the attraction of the intimate venue is not lost on me.  But I’ve also rocked out to Def LeppardStyx, and Foreigner in hockey barns full of hosers, and I’ve been blown away.  

Big in the Eighties

All that is to say that I’ve no prejudice against a band JUST because they were big in the eighties.  So, although I suppose my favourite Heart albums are their first few from the mid-seventies, I am still fond of much of their work from the days when they were finally making the REALLY big bucks.  This week’s revaluation will be of Heart’s 1987 album Bad Animals.  I can’t claim that the album was un- or underappreciated at the time, because it contained four hits, one of which hit Billboard’s #1 spot (“Alone”).  However, having followed the band for a long time, I’ve noticed that this “corporate rock” era of their music is often pooh-poohed in comparison with their early days of (apparently) greater integrity.  I have to differ with that opinion.  Bad Animals blew me away when it came out, and now, twenty-six years later, it still sounds pretty damned good.  

Singers and Songwriters

One of the criticisms (and an accurate one, because it’s simply factual) is that Heart came to rely heavily on outside songwriters at this point in their career, after having written most of their own songs in their early years.  Well, this probably isn’t the place to get into a discussion of what Dylan and the Beatles wrought by recording mostly songs that they themselves had written, or to remind you of what most of you already know, that songwriters and interpreters (as they were rightly considered) were, for much of the popular-music era, two different, very different beasts.  (“Ah, Billie Holliday ain’t so great – she just sang other people’s songs.”)  But there’s something to be said for a band that can not only write songs for itself but also choose just those songs that suit their sound.  Sure, Bad Animalsbegins with a Diane Warren song, “Who Will You Run To” (extra points, in my book, if you didn’t flinch at her name – she’s a terrificwriter of hit songs in many different genres) and features work by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (including the majestic “Alone,” about which more in a moment) and the now-little-known Canadian singer Lisa Dalbello; but they’re all good songs – not a dud on the record – and the four songs written by one or another or both of the Wilson sisters are fine tunes in their own right.  So the material is strong; but so are the performances.

The Songs

So, yes, “Alone.”  I saw the band perform on their Red Velvet Car tour in 2011, and that song was the show’s centrepiece.  It was transformed from the heavily orchestrated power ballad that we hear on this album to a damn-near-a-cappella rendition that reminded every person in the arena just what a world-class rock singer Ann Wilson always was and still is.  Thing is, it held up brilliantly without significant embellishment (and you know Alice Cooper’s test of a song: he says that if you can’t play a song just on piano and sing it, no amount of arranging or backing tracks will make it a good song).  Then there’s Dalbello’s song, “Wait for an Answer,” which draws forth another virtuoso vocal from Ann and brings the record’s first side (yes, I know what I said) to a dramatic and satisfying close.  But the second side is almost as good as the first, featuring the heavy, heavy title track; the lovely ballad “Strangers of the Heart” (co-written by their bassist at the time, Mark Andes, formerly of one of the great American bands of all time, Spirit – stay tuned to this website for a lot of words about them in the future); and the atmospheric, largely acoustic album closer “R.S.V.P."

Production

So have another listen.  In the interest of objectivity (insofar as objectivity is possible for someone – okay, me – relistening to an album he used to love), I have to concede that maybe the synthesizers occasionally obtrude a bit, doing more than contributing to the songs’ overall sound; and the production (by veteran engineer and producer Ron Nevison) is occasionally a bit too bright and sparkly, especially by modern bass-heavy standards.  But this is a solid, melodic, enjoyable album, performed with gusto and great talent.  Don’t hold its eighties pedigree against it.

GW

Check out their website, http://www.heart-music.com