Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when I did, I came to have a fierce loyalty to Heart. For years, I have talked about the importance of this great band; not only have they made some great music themselves, they have been extremely important to other movements. Without Ann and Nancy Wilson rocking out for the last 35 years, I have argued, there would be no Seattle scene (say goodbye to Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden), no riot grrl bands (see ya to Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill and L7, all from the NW), and no female metal at all (well, okay, that’s a stretch).
So I’d love to say that Ann Wilson’s first solo record is an amazing work of musical art, giving us all insights into her life and musical vision and all that. Sadly, I can’t; it’s too all over the place, thematically, and, for a solo album, it relies too much on covers and on bizarre duet partners: Elton John? Really? In 2007? Was that really necessary?
But damn if she can’t still turn it out — she still possesses one of the great voices in rock history, and it is in full effect all over this album. To hear her tear into “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and completely eat up duet partner Wynonna Judd…well, it’s pretty inspiring, is all. Her take on Neil Young’s “War of Man” with Alison Kraus sounds like it would be way too precious, but it’s actually pretty tough and rockish and angry. And it’s kind of hilarious that she takes on Led Zeppelin, considering that she’s been accused of aping Robert Plant for her whole career, only to turn “Immigrant Song” into a slow-burning folk-jazz piece with swirly psychedelic electronica.
It’s also pretty funny to hear her do “Jackson” with k.d. lang, but not really funny ha-ha, more like funny strange because you wouldn’t think their voices would work together as well as they do. And even though her chamber-blues cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” ultimately fizzles (due to a somnolent backing track), Ann Wilson proves that she hasn’t lost a single bit of the glorious instrument that has been her trademark for more than three decades.
And yet just when I’m loving this record, bad things happen. The cover of “Get Together” is botched hippie nostalgia, as is the Rufus Wainwright/Shawn Colvin-enhanced version of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”. The album’s overarching theme is the shittiness of our war against Iraq, and I agree wholeheartedly with that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the album’s most explicitly political song, the closer “Little Problems Little Lies,” a tale of a dying soldier which manages to be both overwritten and underexplained. And, come on, Elton John? Singing on a soggy stringy “Where to Now St. Peter?”? Nope, sorry — I’m a tolerant man, but that’s just going too far.
So I had a lot higher hopes for this, but when it’s listened to as an actual album it is pretty good, especially for a 57-year-old woman releasing her first solo record. You’ll need to keep a quick finger on the “skip” button so you can avoid the boring stuff, but that could be said about a lot of records. The good news, ultimately, is that there is a lot more good material than bad here. That is kind of a triumph. But it would be a lot better to just hear a new Heart album — Jupiter’s Darling was, after all, pretty good. Here’s hoping that Ann has this solo jag out of her system now.