Even for a genre as dodgy as the power ballad (loosely defined: any love song by a metal band from the mid- to late eighties), there is a right way to do a compilation record. As with most things it’s just about care. Heart of Metal is a one disc, one-off collection of power ballads that is almost completely careless. Even the requisite catchy name is a lazy pun since there is no doubt metal bands put a lot more “heart” into the songs about sex and drugs than the sappy love ballads that Heart of Metal celebrates.
More importantly, the song selection is poor at best. There were certainly good power ballads: Skid Row’s “I Remember You,” Mötley Crüe’s “Girl Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” None of these songs is included on Heart of Metal. Instead we get inappropriate but good songs (Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” from 1975—way too early for the power ballad era), inappropriate and bad songs (Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”—a 1993 release by a seventies pop star—not metal and not eighties), and appropriate but bad songs (Sammy Hagar’s “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy”—does anyone like Sammy Hagar?) The only song I was excited to see was “Ballad of Jayne” by the LA Guns, a forgotten gem by a hard rock band with dubious connections to Guns N’ Roses back when such a thing made you hip.
For people attempting to relive the eighties there are just two tracks on Heart of Metal famous enough to effectively evoke the era; the Scorpion’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and Whitesnake’s “Is This Love.” Both songs, though not the very finest of the genre, are at least typical of it with revved up guitar solos and gunshot-in-canyon snare sounds.
Adding to the low rent feel, the packaging for Heart of Metal is as weak as the album itself. The liner notes are skimpy, neglecting to provide even the original source LP of each track, although they do include a longish essay by Rob Kemp that attempts valiantly to weave a plausible context for the haphazard group of songs he was hired to elucidate—nice try Rob.
But that’s Heart of Metal: weak, skimpy, low-rent. Even hair metal deserves better.
// Notes from the Road
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