Bebe le Strange

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Bebe le Strange, Heart's entrance into the 1980s, was a rough one. Heart were certainly questioning their identity here, as evidenced by their feeble attempt at punky new wave on "Break." It was the band's first without guitarist Roger Fisher -- longtime co-writer and guitarist Sue Ennis stepped in for the sessions -- and his absence is felt here; there is a distinct lack of his elegant approach to acoustic guitar and his tasty lead work. Much of the deeply textured sonic lushness of the band's earlier records is relegated to the back burner and production touches are focused on compression. Instead of creating spaces, they seem to break them down. Perhaps the Wilson sisters were feeling the pressure of punk and new wave and trying to update their sound for the new decade, but it was a mistake. Heart's trademark sound is timeless, and there are flashes of it here on cuts such as Nancy Wilson's gorgeous ballad "Silver Wheels" and the rocked-up single "Even It Up," but overall, Bebe le Strange feels unfocused and restless. The urgency on tracks like "Raised on You" and "Down on Me" (not the Janis Joplin tune) feels forced, and Ann's "Sweet Darlin'" falls too late in the proceedings -- it might have made a wonderful addition to the middle of the set, but here, one of the album's best melodies falls into near obscurity by its placement. Finally, the keyboard and drum production on this set were so gimmicky that they dated the record before it was even issued.

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