When I was in the sixth grade, I was friends with a guy who had an older sister who wore a lot of denim and smelled like stale cigarette smoke and whiskey. She had a mirror on her wall, likely won at a county fair, emblazoned with the Heart logo. That’s how Heart is for a lot of people, even those who saw them settle into AOR balladry in the ’80s. But lest we forget, “Barracuda” was no fluke: the Wilson sisters rocked!
Red Velvet Car showcases both of those extremes and is likely exactly what longtime fans like my old friend’s sister were hoping to hear.
It’s always a little awkward when grown-ups use Internet acronyms, and in the case of Heart’s “WTF”, it feels doubly so. Thankfully, the album’s most thoroughly ramshackle rocker only uses the shtick in its title, settling instead on a more philosophical bent: “What bridge to cross and what bridge to burn?” The album is filled with lyrics like that, the kinds of questions posited while drunk or high in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. And if anyone else pulled that shit in 2010, you’d laugh your ass off. But with Heart, it works. Seriously. Because what Ann and Nancy Wilson know that all the Arcade Fires and Radioheads of the world don’t seem to understand is that sometimes feelings don’t have to be conveyed any deeper than a can of Schlitz.
Red Velvet Car is an album that feels like it doesn’t know it’s the 21st century or that the record industry is in the toilet. The lyrics are earnestly corny, the guitars — even the acoustic ones — layered and LOUD. “Wheels” is the most “Barracuda”-esque of the bunch, with soaring vocals and a crunchy riff. “Safronia’s Mark” picks up the scent of Led Zeppelin’s mysticism and I have no idea what it’s about or where the “winding alleyways of Sodo” even are, but goddamn if it doesn’t sound like it should be played driving too fast with the windows rolled all the way down. If someone told you this was secretly recorded between Little Queen and Magazine, it’s only lyrics like “I texted you in desperation” (from the otherwise timeless “Death Valley”) that would give the game away.
Red Velvet Car is unapologetically huge in every conceivable way, and that’s exactly what it should be. Heart are crafty veterans in the rock & roll game, but there’s much more honesty here than you’ll find in current releases by many of their contemporaries. Red Velvet Car is exactly what Heart has always been about, through their varied heydays and into the present. This is music meant to be played in arenas, but still give the listener that same feeling of intimacy they felt when they hung their first country fair mirror on their suburban bedroom wall.