Saturday, January 21, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 960: Heart

You can’t always choose what you love. So if loving this record is wrong – and it probably is – I don’t want to be right.

This next review will make me sound very hypocritical, but I’m hoping to make up for it with embarrassing honesty. At least I know I shouldn’t like this stuff.

Disc 960 is….Self-Titled
Artist: Heart

Year of Release: 1985

What’s up with the Cover? Ah, Heart. You have my sympathies; the eighties were cruel on fashion. Ann Wilson looks like a wealthy dowager off to a company Christmas party, and Ann looks like she’s going to clean the house while she’s out. The less said about three men the better, who collectively are covering every facet of what made men’s hair styles in the eighties terrible: mullet, mousse and mini-fro. I had the latter.

How I Came To Know It: Back in the eighties my brother and I pretty much only bought Heavy Metal, but he made an exception for this album, likely because Heart were sufficiently hard rock to not be embarrassing. Also, I suspect that, like me, he thought the songs were good. I bought it on CD a few years ago at very low price – maybe $7 in a bargain bin.

How It Stacks Up:  Since giving away the terrible “Bad Animals” (reviewed back at Disc 827) I only have two Heart albums. This one probably doesn’t deserve to be ranked first, but that’s what I’m doing anyway so…#1!

Ratings: 3 stars

Yeehaw – mid-eighties production! Organs where guitars should be! But…wait a minute. Don’t I hate those things? Don’t I prefer organic sound and sparse production? Well, there’s an exception for everything, and Heart’s self-titled eighties comeback is the exception for me.

Admittedly it is a strange choice, with songs that straddle the line between hard rock and power pop and lyrics that range from teenage angst to creepy sex metaphors. But damn it, there are some really good songs on this record.

It helps that I grew up with this record and I know it like the back of my hand, particularly Side One. I’ve been singing along to these songs since the ninth grade. Familiarity makes a difference, I suppose.

It also helps that Ann Wilson has one of the rock’s greatest voices ever. Big and bold with wicked range and power on songs like “Never” and “If Looks Could Kill” then soft and sweet on lighter tracks like “These Dreams” and “Nobody Home.” Sister Nancy manages the same range on guitar.

Finally, if I’m being honest, in the great age of eighties music videos both women were easy on the eyes. That probably held my attention a little longer and gave the music a chance to win me over.

As I noted earlier, Side One is easily the best half of the record. “If Looks Could Kill” launches the record with a thick, eighties metal sound; crunching guitar (including the requisite gratuitous solo). The organ adds a bit of pop spice and gives it the mass appeal this record enjoyed in the day.

That synthesizer and organ sounds are present on almost every song, and it should wreck them but doesn’t. On “What About Love” it (along with Ann’s vocal) is the star of the show, underscoring the overwrought emotion that would make Bonnie Tyler or a Broadway musical equally proud. I like it too.

Despite my love for all the great songs on Side One, Side Two had my favourite; a deep cut called “Nobody Home” full of strained imagery that really worked for me when I was 15. Wilson’s vocal is soft as a prayer, but still fills the room with warnings to her man to not go too wild, or one day when he comes home she won’t be there:

“Don’t run too fast like a shot from a gun
Don’t jump too high and knock out the sun
Don’t stray too far out on your own
When you finally come knocking there’ll be nobody home.”

Based on what the guy is apparently up to, I assume these lines are sung by Lois Lane. Yes it is schlocky, but I can’t help liking it. Like the rest of this record, it is half great artistry, half guilty pleasure.

The rest of Side Two is not good however, even for me. “All Eyes” is supposed to be charged with sexual tension, but just feels awkwardly creepy to me, with lines like:

“When you look at me
It melts my legs
Wraps me around your fingertip
You don’t have to say a word
To get a hold of me”

What the hell is going on here, and are pictures available? But no…no eighties video for this one.

The album spawned four top ten hits and the worst of them, “Nothing At All” isn’t bad so much as it doesn’t hold up against the other tracks with its strange back up singing that makes it way too…eighties.

But wait a minute – why didn’t I complain about the same issues with all the other songs? I can’t explain it except sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Or maybe I’ve been cooped up singing the songs on this record so long that I have the music listening strain of Stockholm syndrome.

I grade the first side of this record at 4 stars and the second at 2, so I’ll split the difference and give it 3 overall. I really wanted to give this record an extra star. Maybe that one I arbitrarily sucked from my last Duran Duran review…But no, I squandered that long ago on movies featuring Ron Pearlman and vampires. So I guess I’ll stick with 3, but it is a very heartfelt and appreciative 3. Thanks, Heart, for reminding me that even at its worst, eighties production can’t completely sink great singing and a good melody. Every now and then it even helps things along.

Best tracks: If Looks Could Kill, What About Love, Never, These Dreams, Nobody Home

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