If it ain’t broke, it must be beautiful…
Released through Concorde Records on 8 July 2016 and given a Private Audition (geddit?) by Paul Quinton
Unlike a lot of bands who have as long and distinguished a history, Heart have had a pretty consistent record of releasing albums over the last decade or so, all the way up to 2012’s Fanatic, as well as a slew of live albums, but while Beautiful Broken has been billed as a new studio album, it actually transpires that only a proportion of its ten tracks are new. There are several older tracks that have been reworked, as well as a cover, but this shouldn’t put you off, because apart from some minor missteps, of which more later, this is as good an album as Heart have released for a while.
The album opener and title track is one of those reworked songs. Originally a bonus track on some releases of Fanatic, it’s a short, sharp rocker, with a heads down, no-nonsense riff, and the headlines, and airplay, have come from the presence of James Hetfield sharing vocals with Ann Wilson. The other older tracks vary in the amount of surgery they’ve had, mostly confined to changes in the arrangements and use of an orchestra, but this release gives us the opportunity to have another listen to what are some fine songs. ‘Johnny Moon’, originally on Private Audition is a slower song, with something of Joni Mitchell about the lyrics and vocal melody, and a touch of psychedelia about the guitar solo, whereas ‘City’s Burning’, from Passionworks, is another rocker, although with a chorus that takes it to a different place with the use of the strings. This would be a cracking track to hear live. The other ‘old’ track is ‘Down On Me’, from the underrated Bebe le Strange album, and is a bluesier song. Although it’s another I would love to hear live, the ending is surprisingly abrupt, and seems to leave the song a little unfinished.
Of the newer songs, ‘Two’ is a bit of an oddity and as the second song on the record, it’s a sharp contrast to the title track, being a quite a gentle song. It’s a cover, written by Shaffer ’Ne-Yo’and is sung by Nancy. Although Ann is the acknowledged lead vocalist, and is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, female rock singers around, it’s a shame that Nancy’s singing gets overlooked, as she’s a fine singer in her own right, and this song went down really well on the band’s recent UK tour. In contrast ‘I Jump’, also played on the tour, is a much heavier proposition, with a touch of the Zeppelins, it starts quite reflectively, before the chorus gives the whole thing a distinct touch of the epic. Similarly ‘Heaven’ also reminds you of Page and Plant, although more from the ‘Unledded’ era. Superb vocals from Ann on the opening part, belting it out over what are described as ‘textures’ in the album credits, before the band kick the door in on the chorus and the song really takes off. Another song that will probably be a highlight live, and possibly the best track on the album.
Beautiful Broken, the album, is really flying at this point, but unfortunately the two closing tracks are a bit of a let down. More Nancy vocals on ‘One Word’, another gentler song and her only solo writing credit on the album, it seems to lack the fire and passion of a lot of the rest of the album, and similarly ‘Language of Love’ a low key end to the album. These two tracks are my only reservation about the album, as they really aren’t up to the quality of the rest. Ann Wilson can make even the weakest song a little special, but these also feel oddly unfinished and aren’t the best way to round off what is otherwise a strong piece of work.
My mark of 8 out of 10 could easily have been a nine or more if the last two tracks had been to up to the standard of the rest of the album, including the reworked older songs, but even so this is a very strong record, particularly for a band celebrating the fortieth anniversary of its debut.
8 out of 10
- Beautiful Broken
- Sweet Darlin’
- I Jump
- Johnny Moon
- City’s Burning
- Down On Me
- One Word
- Language of Love