Classic rockers re-record their golden-age catalogs for many reasons. “Spot-the-difference” recreations are often for licensing purposes, while acoustic or symphonic reexaminations are a way to stay creatively engaged with overly familiar songs.
Heart‘s not like most classic rock bands, however. And so, even though Beautiful Broken features seven re-dos of older songs, the band’s motivation for re-imagination is purely artistic: Due to a dissatisfaction with production or execution, principal members Ann and Nancy Wilson wanted a second chance to tackle a selection of the band’s early ’80s songs.
The results are engaging and energized. Passionworks‘ “Johnny Moon” and “Language of Love” have their dated sonic gloss stripped away: The former now boasts prominent piano and ghostly harmonies, while the latter has a lighter approach with delicate strings arranged by Elton John and Rolling Stones collaborator Paul Buckmaster. Private Audition‘s “City’s Burning” also boasts quivering orchestration but, owing to a lower key and a slightly slower tempo, it’s transformed into a dynamic hard rock song with grungy grooves, rumbling riffs and a gritty underbelly.
Heart’s m.o. has always been to combine heavy, bluesy hard rock and lilting folk. Beautiful Broken‘s concept and approach highlight this contrast. Bébé le Strange‘s “Down on Me” becomes a heavy, slow-burning waltz with a torch-song vibe. That album’s “Sweet Darlin,’” meanwhile, ends Beautiful Broken in a burst of gorgeous Buckmaster string sweeps and one of Ann Wilson‘s best lead vocal turns: Her voice is at once measured, vulnerable and proud. Nancy Wilson likewise has her own time in the vocal spotlight on the new song “Two,” a piano-driven ballad written by the R&B star Ne-Yo that’s deeply, unabashedly romantic.
Shades of Heart’s beloved Led Zeppelin emerge on another new song, “Heaven,” a heavy psychedelic dirge driven by a zoning sitar. But the album’s title track — a reworking of a bonus track from 2012’s Fanatic — sounds most urgent of all. A duet between Ann Wilson and Metallica‘s James Hetfield, the song pairs gnarly guitars, a ringing, wordless chorus and a gloriously ragged edge — due to the fact the vocalists match each other note for ferocious note and snarling attitude.
In a just world, “Beautiful Broken” would be blasting out of car radios all summer. The same goes for the rest of the album. But it’s incorrect to characterize Beautiful Broken as an exercise in nostalgia, because Heart aren’t resting on their laurels or coasting on past achievements: They’re inspired by their own art and songwriting. In fact, by digging into the nooks and crannies of their catalog, they’ve discovered new, fresh insights and creative motivation.
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