Heart’s 14th studio album, their first since 2010’s Red Velvet Car, storms out of the gate with its title track, “Fanatic.” Proving that Ann and Nancy Wilson have not lost their rock edge, the sisters clearly mean business right from the start. Muscular rhythmic work, courtesy of Ric Markmann (bass) and Ben Smith (drums), bolsters the satisfyingly unfussy rock vibe. Producer Ben Mink (repeating his duties on Red Velvet Car) adds a crisp, clear sheen to Fanatic. It’s downhill after that powerhouse opening cut, but the drop-off isn’t too precipitous. Consistently listenable, Fanatic’s 39 minutes are an entirely welcome addition to Heart’s discography.
The stripped-down rock feel continues with “Dear Old America.” I love the extended up-tempo guitar break; no technical flash on display, but plenty of crunchy jamming. “Walkin’ Good” calms things down for a little mid-tempo acoustic pensiveness. Nancy Wilson steps forward for the lead vocal, assisted by Sarah McLachlan. Ben Mink’s banjo adds an Americana flavor. This one features an ultra-catchy chorus, but I wish McLachlan’s had been allowed to shine a little. Her distinctive voice doesn’t exactly stand out here.
“Skin and Bones” brings in a little touch of funkiness. There’s not a lot of melody or even a distinctive hook, just an infectious groove. Producer Mink’s keyboards and strings lend a more expansive production sound to “A Million Miles,” the lengthiest track on Fanatic. The minimalist lyrics allow Ann the chance to really blow off some steam. “I got one/I got two/I got three/I got four/I got five million miles till I get home,” is the simple chorus and she works up a good head of steam before it’s all over.
Nancy sits out “Pennsylvania” (except for some subtle backing vocals), leaving the guitars to Mink on this sedate tune. “Mashallah” kicks and stomps underneath another powerful Ann Wilson vocal—the spirit of Led Zeppelin must be nearby. For its first three minutes or so, “Rock Deep (Vancouver)” is the quietest tune on Fanatic. Even after the drums thunder in for the final minute and a half, the song maintains its meditative tone.
“59 Crunch” offers a vocal duet between Ann and Nancy.
Again, this one is all about the rocking atmosphere rather than memorable
hooks. While not the kind of tune that gets lodged in your brain (“Walkin’ Good”
gets that honor on Fanatic), “59
Crunch” is a highlight for the contrast between the two lead vocalists.
Fanatic caps an ultra-productive year for Heart. Fans have really reaped the benefits with this past summer’s rarities-laden box set Strange Euphoria. Next was Ann and Nancy Wilson’s memoir, Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll. The capper is Fanatic, with at least one classic Heart song (the title track) and bunch of stuff that probably sounds pretty great live if you can catch them on their current tour.