Album review: HEART – Beautiful Broken

HEART - Beautiful Broken

UMC [Release date 08.07.16]

Heart’s sixteenth studio album is their first since Fanatic (2012) and finds the Wilson sisters serving up a mix of old, new, and borrowed material with Metallica’s James Hetfield duetting with Ann Wilson on the title track.

Aiming for a seventies feel, they picked songs they’ve wanted to re-do for many years.  Interestingly, they all come from the early eighties – two from each of Bébé le Strange (1980), Private Audition (1982), and Passionworks (1983) – the albums that immediately preceded those of their greatest commercial success (Heart (1985), Bad Animals (1987) and Brigade (1990)).  So to many, they will be unfamiliar material.  To those they’ve added three new numbers, although the title track (without Hetfield) was a Fanatic deluxe edition bonus track.

Recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, where the Doors cut their best work, Ann Wilson gives another peerless vocal performance and the sound – co-produced by Nancy Wilson with bassist Dan Rothchild – is sharp and punchy with some top notch guitar work from Craig Bartock.

It has to be said, however, that Heart’s Achilles heel has always been their song writing, and it’s no coincidence that their late eighties success coincided with brought in material / co-writers.  It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the highlight of Beautiful Broken is the R&B artist Ne-Yo penned Two, on which Nancy demonstrates that while she can’t match Ann’s register (who can?), she’s no slouch in the vocal department.

That apart, Beautiful Broken is a very consistent piece of work.  Quite possibly as a result of the recordings being made with the band playing together simultaneously, as opposed to the more current vogue of parts being recorded separately and stitched together.  It certainly adds vibrancy and a contemporary freshness to the re-worked material as layers of rather dated 80s production are sandblasted away.

As for the new numbers, the re-working of ‘Beautiful Broken’ is a vast improvement, the Kashmir-influenced ‘I Jump’ indulges the sisters ongoing obsession with Zep, and as already mentioned ‘Two’ is a marvellous slice of pop.

Heart’s previous studio album, Fanatic, was something of a renaissance and Beautiful Broken reaffirms that form, albeit plundering part of their back catalogue.  And in doing so it brings a welcome splash of colour to what was a rather monochrome period in the band’s career.  ****

Review by Pete Whalley

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