Heart’s forthcoming album, Red Velvet Car, is being promoted as “the most personal and powerful work yet from Ann and Nancy Wilson.” Perhaps I’m stuck in the past – which may not be a bad place to be these days – but I don’t think Heart will ever top their debut Dreamboat Annie. An album that remains on my list of all-time favorite albums. That’s not to dismiss their latest effort, in fact, it’s actually quite good.
I suppose many a reader would rather get beyond geezer reminiscences and get on with this latest release from Heart – the first studio album since 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling, which was not able to attain the commercial success they had enjoyed with previous releases.
Producer Ben Mink, who worked with Ann Wilson on her 2007 solo album Hope & Glory, reportedly formed an immediate musical connection with Nancy Wilson, and for the first time in her career, sister Ann was encouraged by Mink to “hold back” a bit vocally.
“It’s not that he wants me to hold back the intensity, but instead to explore what’s inside of me,” Wilson says. For me the “holding back” factor was evident from the get-go. Track 1, “There You Go,” reveals an Ann Wilson that sounds more mellow than what we might be accustomed to coming from one of the rock world’s true powerhouse female vocalists.
Despite the mellow introduction to this album, any speculation about Heart’s inability to rock is quickly put to rest with “WTF,”brings us back to the Heart that reminds me more of “Barracuda” or “Even It Up,” although in contrast to those two Heart classics, the sentiment behind this one is decidedly introspective, being described by Ann Wilson as “…kind of the way you talk to yourself.”
The title track finds itself in position three and backs the tempo down again with a emotional passage that is accompanied by evocative lyrics that make it easy to visualize your way through the story that is woven into this relatively short, but powerful song. This one brings home the words of of Nancy Wilson who said, “There’s not an inauthentic, fictitious or posing bone in the body of this album.”
“Queen City” is a tribute to the Wilson sister’s home town of Seattle, Washington. This one may be my least-favorite track on the album. It’s has a catchy foot-tapping quality to it, but for me it just didn’t seem to have the same level of emotion and sincerity of the other tracks.
It’s clear that the group has indulged their acoustic side during the making of Red Velvet Car. Track six is a good example, and has a more light-hearted feel to it compared to some of the other songs in the album, but that may not be what was intended, and may be the result of a superficial interpretation on may part. Lyrically, it is a song that took ten years for Nancy Wilson to complete, and although it there is a positive element to it, it was described by Nancy Wilson as “really quite heartbreaking.”
Heart fans may want my head on a platter over this one, but some of the subtleties in “Wheels” remind me of something Rush might have come up with. Mink has worked with Rush, and whether that has anything to do with anything is not known to me. However, any comparisons between Heart and Rush should not be considered anything by complimentary coming from me. Similarities can be found everywhere and are probably more likely a result of coincidence rather than influence.
The remaining tracks stay true to the decidedly mellow, acoustic feel that this album has. There is no “Magic Man” or “Magazine” on this album, but perhaps that is just a reflection of who and what Heart is today, and it’s certainly not a bad thing.
Perhaps it is best summed up by Ann Wilson herself: “Here we are at this point in the band’s history and just like with any lifespan, the longer you love, the longer things look in back of you — and shorter in front of you too. That sense of perspective means that you’re much less likely to want to waste any time at all. So there’s a even greater sense of mortality, of the stakes involved here and an even stronger desire to make every moment on the album matter.”
Red Velvet Car may not be the kind of hard-rocking album that we remember from the band’s early years, but I think it’s a worthy representation of how the Wilson sisters have matured and seen their priorities change through the years.
It may be easier for us who are a bit closer in age to Ann and Nancy Wilson to appreciate the journey that has led them to Red Velvet Car, but at the same time, it’s a release that should please – and perhaps even surprise – Heart fans of all age groups.
Red Velvet Car is set for release on August 31st, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.