It’s a tricky thing, revisiting your old songs. Stroke of genius or a sign of a creative slowdown? It felt a little like the latter when Bruce Springsteen salted recent albums with songs like “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “High Hopes,” which were already readily available to fans. Then again, it was a masterstroke earlier this year when Tom Petty rescued his sublime song “Trailer” from its status as a forgotten mid-‘80s B-side to a prominent track on the new Mudcrutch album.
Ann and Nancy Wilson decided that a lot of the songs from both Heart’s heyday and recent era didn’t get the proper treatment, performance or respect, either from producers or radio. So we have Beautiful Broken, a new release that redefines album cuts (going all the way back to 1980’s Bebe Le Strange) with a handful of new tracks thrown in.
The title track blasts the disc into space immediately, sounding like a slice of ’79 that somehow got left in the vaults. It’s really a 2012 track that got overlooked; no chance of that this time, as the turbocharged track inspired James Hetfield to get his growl on with the girls.
Heart’s passion for Led Zeppelin has always been proudly worn, including covering Zep live and that amazing version of “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors back in 2012. Those fingerprints are all over the new release.
“I Jump” has echoes of Led Zeppelin III’s “Friends” mixed with a vibe from “Four Sticks” on the next album, capped off with some nice John Paul Jones-inspired string arrangements augmenting it (though the nod actually goes to master arranger Paul Buckmaster, known for his work with Elton John and others). Stealing Zep’s sound is one thing (hello, Kingdom Come), but this is an original work that gives a nod and respect to their influences. And thankfully, doesn’t ever stray too close to “Taurus” territory.
The bluesy Zep vibe continues through “Down on Me” including a guitar riff in the chorus that at times echoes the end of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
The new material turns out to be the weaker links. “Two” (written by Ne-Yo) sounds like some of the lesser mid-‘80s songs from a period the sisters have disavowed (even if they still sing some of those songs in concert; they still love songs like “These Dreams” and “Alone,” but both sisters have dismissed the compromises they made as “a devil’s bargain”). “Two” devolves into mush despite Nancy Wilson’s attempt to breathe life into it. Then again, “One Word” (resuscitated from 1982’s Private Audition album) has an effortless beauty that reminds you that not only have the sisters’ voices remain pristine but they also know how to sell a love song. Pure beauty. It smoothly transitions into the final track, “Language of Love,” another lost classic from 1983’s Passionwork.
A few years ago, Nancy Wilson put Heart’s ongoing music-making in context: “It makes no common sense to be going out-of-pocket and spending all our money to make an album right now, especially when you’re not the youngest, blondish thing coming through the Disney grinder.”
But, she added, “it’s what we do. It’s what we love.”
This is the new Heart album fans have been waiting for – even if they already gave you most of it in the past.
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