Heart: Beautiful Broken

The Wilson sisters resurrect some songs from their early '80s forgotten years and fix what was broken, often achieving beauty.


Beautiful Broken

Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2016-07-08
UK Release Date: 2016-07-08

Heart’s strengths lie in '70s-style classic rock. It’s where they excel, mining acoustic folk and hard rock -- light and shade -- à la Led Zeppelin, one of their prime influences. Sure, their biggest sales came in the mid to late '80s when they were remade in spandex and big hair as a slick MTV-friendly band depending on outside hit-factory songwriters. But that era of their music hasn’t dated particularly well, and even leaders Ann & Nancy Wilson eventually tired of the artifice of that period, with Heart taking a 10-year hiatus from the studio after 1993’s Desire Walks On.

That’s why it’s especially unusual that the Wilson sisters have chosen to return to the '80s for their latest album, Beautiful Broken. Only, they’ve thrown an interesting curveball, re-recording a selection of tracks from what was a relatively fallow period for them earlier in the decade. The trilogy of albums they issued then -- from the moderately successful, if uneven, Bebe Le Strange (1980), through to the diminishing returns of Private Audition (1982) and Passionworks (1983) -- found them in a strange interzone. Their style of music had been supplanted by new wave and the after effects of punk and disco and they hadn’t found their second wind yet. They’d lost their footing both professionally and personally. As Ann Wilson said recently in Rolling Stone, “For me, that whole Private Audition / Passionworks era was when I was at my most lost. In terms of substances and alcohol, stuff like that, I don't feel I was able to focus that well. I was OK live, but I couldn't focus enough to go into the studio and make it work. And so some of those songs, they were good songs, but they got lost.”

They’ve gone back and cherry picked two songs from each of those three albums, plus the title track (originally a bonus cut on 2012’s Fanatic), and added three new songs to keep it current and not a total exercise in nostalgia. As a cohesive work, the songs all work surprisingly well together, with the possible exception of the sequencing of lullaby-esque ballad “Two” immediately following the pummeling “Beautiful Broken”.

That title song is the single, and the most adventurous track due to the involvement of Metallica’s James Hetfield. Adventurous doesn’t always mean it works, though, and the song doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be: edgy metal or glossy arena rock. Better rockers are the new “Heaven”, a moody desert-psych number which vaguely echoes Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, and the new version of “Down On Me”, which recalls the band’s glory days and would have fit easily on any of their strongest '70s albums.

“Sweet Darlin'”, though, is the true lost Heart track from this collection that missed its chance first time around. An Ann Wilson original, it has the melody and feel of a pop standard, with tasteful orchestra and one of her best vocal performances, emotive but not overblown.

New life is breathed into other tracks with inventive additions, such as a backwards guitar solo on “Johnny Moon” and a short spoken word section on “One Word”. New life is also given to these tracks through what’s taken away. On “Johnny Moon”, gone is the distracting and dated artificial drum sound of the 1983 original. “One Word” was a standout track on Private Audition, but got weighed down under a clumsy rock arrangement with too much going on. Here it’s been cleaned up and simplified, revealing the calm beauty beneath.

In the end, the title of the album can be interpreted multiple ways. There’s face-value, with the subject of the title song being a beautiful but self-destructive woman. One could also say these resurrected songs were broken in the early '80s, but still had beauty. Taking it a little further, one could say the songs are beautiful when they’re broken down with the now dated production removed, that there’s untapped beauty in them when they’re broken out of their 1980s prisons. However you look at it, though, this is a unique and rewarding addition to the Heart catalog.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.