2012 has been quite a year for Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson. In June, the multi-disc box set retrospective Strange Euphoria was released. It was followed in September by the publication of their memoir, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll. And in October comes Fanatic, a brand new studio offering. The band re-teams with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Mink (who helmed the sessions for 2010's Red Velvet Car). He also co-wrote the material with the pair. Lyrically the album is almost a counterpart to their memoir; its songs detail life events, changes, and a lifetime of ups and downs. Things get off to a rumbling start with the title track, a squalling, big production, hard rock number, with Nancy Wilson's big, meaty riffs, Mink's enormous drums, and Ann Wilson's earthshaking voice. The tune's bluesy, soulful choruses fold well inside Mink's sonic treatments, giving it a thunderous power. On "Dear Old America," slide guitars, a crunchy riff, controlled feedback, and ethereal layers of violin and viola (a nice touch by Mink recalling moments on the band's earliest records) meet hard blues-rock and latter day psychedelia. Other rockers include "A Million Miles" and the Led Zeppelin-esque "Mashallah," which are also clear standouts. "Skin and Bones marries basic blues-rock to high-tech programming (à la ZZ Top) and works far better than it should. "59 Crunch" is Heart in pure post-psych terrain, where everything is mixed in the red as the sisters trade verses up front. There are a couple of missteps, however. The first is "Walkin' Good," with guest Sarah McLachlan in duet with Nancy. The strings are too prominent, the acoustic guitars too muddy, and the banjo simply corny. The other clunker is "Rock Deep (Vancouver)," a balladic, overly sentimental paean to the place that Heart adopted as their first home after Seattle. It's well-intentioned, but it falls flat. While these tracks do add balance, they don't match the quality of the rockers. The Led Zeppelin motif returns on the trippy closer "Corduroy Road," with its use of space, layered echoes, reverbed guitars, cracking snares, and North African modalities, all framed inside Heart's classic psych-rock sound. In sum, in a career that spans nearly 40 years, on Fanatic, the Wilsons prove they can not only not re-create a sound they trademarked in the '70s, but can revision it creatively for the 21st century.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek