That heavy metal and its hair—in all seriousness—had such tremendous clout during the 1980s is one of the greatest, and most ironic, American pop cultural mysteries. How it was that, for the greater part of a decade, men with long hair, makeup and butt-less pants could sing heart-wrenching love songs while epitomizing masculinity may never be explained, and maybe never should—and for some of us, signals that there may be hope yet. All that aside, the dire need to revel in it all is what strikes to the core of Heart of Metal 2, a 12-song collection paying homage to this most peculiar of phenomena. This compilation showcases some of the most lighter-worthy power ballads from that era, following the original Heart of Metal‘s lead with its own blaze of glory. Err, sorry for the pun.
As with most albums of this type, the collection aims to please, packing in favorite after favorite until you can sway and bang no more. It begins predictably with Whitesnake’s ode to self-reliance, “Here I Go Again”, which zings with grandeur as much as it did when it reached #1 back in 1987. Following it up are polished gems like Sheriff’s “When I’m with You” (you’ll remember that one—you probably dedicated it to your True Love Always back in high school) and Nelson’s “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”. Yes indeed, nothing aches more than the pangs of big, big love—and in this case, big, big love coupled with big, big hair.
As with any compilation, however, this one will leave you wishing for the songs left behind—perhaps Extreme’s “More than Words”, or Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns”. But with ‘80s revivalism in full force, it is only a matter of time until someone puts together the perfect song-set to narrate your nostalgia. Heart of Metal may not be the most comprehensive of metallic ballad compilations, but it achieves its purpose: to make you feel, for 54 minutes, as though this kind of music has relevance again.
If there’s anything to be learned from the full-blown ‘70s renaissance that was ushered in during the 1990s, it’s this: fashion can repeat itself, movies can regain cachet, and hit-filled compilations will always be sold on television infomercials. But the train of music keeps on keeping on. As kitschy, fun, and nostalgic as all this may be, there’s a reason that songs like these have been relegated to the jukeboxes and cover-band sets of America. It’s because the sounds and visions of music are born of their time and place, only imagining their present. And music serves as the soundtrack to the real—explaining our pasts, rekindling them, helping to re-understand our present but never fully taking a seat there.
Unlike movies, art, and clothing, music doesn’t make new sense as we age—it carries us right back to those old places, old feelings, articulating that distance. After all, Whitesnake says it best: “I don’t know where I’m going / But I sure know where I’ve been / Hanging on the promises and the songs of yesterday / And I made up my mind / I ain’t wasting no more time”.