You Again?: Heart, “Red Velvet Car”

For the kids of my generation, Heart was just another source of power ballads — sort of a slightly more hairsprayed and corseted version of Starship or Chicago — and when their jig was up, right around the time 1994’s Desire Walks On came out, it was sort of sad (fewer corsets always are) but also something of a relief (who needs to hear “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” again? Ever?)

The truth of the matter, though, is that Heart was around long before “These Dreams” lit up the request lines; they were, in fact, one of the more entertaining (and groundbreaking) AOR acts of the ’70s. The Runaways received the biopic treatment this year, and they surely deserved it — but if the Runaways broke down the door for women with overdriven amps, Heart took that pungent, unstable fusion of rock & roll plus T&A and turned it into a reliable formula for minting platinum records. Between 1976 and 1980, the band sold more than seven million albums in the U.S. alone, and racked up eight Top 40 singles, including the FM classics “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” and “Magic Man.”

Heart’s commercial fortunes took a stumble in the early ’80s, but even during those years of high member turnover and low sales, the band never released anything as crappy as Chicago XIV or Starship’s Nuclear Furniture — and when Ann and Nancy Wilson decided to reinvent Heart as a pop radio hit factory for 1985’s Heart, they remembered to throw in a handful of old-school rockers (like “If Looks Could Kill”) alongside future adult contemporary standards like “What About Love,” “Never,” and “Nothin’ at All.” More importantly, even as they bought hits from outside songwriters like Diane Warren and Kelly & Steinberg, they never stopped writing solid material of their own — something many of their peers forgot.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and by the time Side Two of 1990’s Brigade rolled around, you could kind of tell Ann and Nancy were running out of steam as far as the Heart brand was concerned. They spent the early ’90s dabbling with a side group, the Lovemongers, and closed out the decade on extended hiatus. For a time, Ann even toured without Nancy.

The lure of the nostalgia circuit can be powerful, though, and in 2002, the Wilson sisters returned with a new version of Heart; two years later, they released their twelfth studio album, Jupiter’s Darling. No longer concerned with hits, they made a return of sorts to their old sound, offering a decent-sized chunk of acoustic-based rock & roll nostalgia for the older set. It wasn’t a patch on their older stuff, but it was pleasant, and Diane Warren was nowhere to be found.

Of course, like a lot of would-be comebacks from rock warhorses, Jupiter’s Darling didn’t have much of an audience waiting for it. Plenty of people might be willing to pay a few bucks to see Heart drag out their greatest hits on tour, but there aren’t many left who care about what the band is recording now — which Heart should understand, actually, because their latest album, Red Velvet Car, gives the impression that the band doesn’t care much either.

A collection of solid riffs in search of a few good songs, Red Velvet Car is a miserable 10-song paradox: It presents the Wilsons at their bluesiest and most appealingly stripped-down, but it also contains some of their least interesting material. For the most part, these are sketches instead of songs — the sort of stuff you’d expect from a band that had six months instead of six years to work on an album.

It starts promisingly, with the slinky groove and rattling acoustic guitars of opening track “There You Go,” but despite some fine, bluesy grit, the song doesn’t really go anywhere melodically, and that’s a theme that quickly repeats itself. The second track, “WTF,” boasts a thundering rhythm track, crunchy guitars, and a nice swerving riff in the breakdown, but the melody is a mess; there’s nothing here you’ll remember later. Ditto for “Wheels,” which has plenty of defiant attitude and an appropriately circular riff powering the melody, but never feels like it gets out of (ahem) first gear, and “Death Valley,” a grinding mess that reaffirms the fact that you should never trust a song that begins with the line “I looked outside my window.” (And they’re all better than “Safronia’s Mark,” whose notebook-margin mysticism begs for a flute solo and/or a vocal cameo from Stevie Nicks.)

If the record has a real bright spot, it’s “Hey You,” a pretty, if slight, acoustic stroller that features a warm lead vocal from Nancy and the only sing-along hook you’ll hear on the album. It’s the kind of song that Top 40-chasing rock bands used to tuck in at the end of an album to prove they could still hack it without all that ’80s production — but here, it’s the fifth track, and instead of ending the record with a nice palate cleanser, it serves as a too-brief interlude and a bittersweet reminder of what used to make Heart special. It’s built from quality parts, but — to end on a gag as uninspired as the album — this Red Velvet Car isn’t even worth stealing.

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  • David_E

    A trio of Giles posts – huzzah!

    And corsets! Double huzzah!

  • Matracas

    What a shame! I was really looking forward to new material by Heart..and knowing they were going back to their roots seemed like an awesome idea..but after reading your review it seams we could have done without it.

  • Anonymous

    They played “WTF” and “Hey You” when I saw them in concert last month. I remember enjoying “Hey You” and “WTF” sounded rocking but mostly like a whole lot of noise.

    Personally, I’m still waiting for Nancy Wilson to release an album of her pre-Elizabethtown movie scores…

  • Rich

    1. “Magic Man” reminds me of the arcade in the Village Square Mall.
    2. “Notebook-margin mysticism” is a spectacular turn of phrase.


  • TDHS

    Obviously you had your opinion ready before you listened.

  • jefito

    Obviously you didn’t really read the column.

  • grayflannelsuit

    I’ll second this.

  • Anonymous

    That’s too bad… I was looking forward to this album as well. Heart is a band that I don’t WANT to not like… maybe that’s my problem and I just automatically latch onto anything about them that remotely reminds me of their past.

    The really sad thing is that hearing that there’s a song actually titled “WTF” on this record makes me want to stay away from it. I would think that Heart’s a bit more creative than that.

  • jefito

    Thanks, Rich!

  • jefito

    Aw, thanks, David!

  • jefito

    I kind of want a box set of the instrumental stuff she did for “Jerry Maguire.”

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what I mean. There was talk about a set of her scores being
    released on vinyl about eight years ago, but I don’t know what
    happened there. A shame, that stuff is beautiful.

  • DwDunphy

    I’ll give it a listen, but when it comes to pop sensibilities and hook-hunting, I defer to Jeff’s abilities – which would indicate this album may bum me out.

  • HoopsGuy

    I’ve heard a pre-release copy of Red Velvet Car and thought it sounded great. Very much in the Dreamboat Annie style. If you are looking for 80’s hairband Heart, then I’m not surprised you don’t like it.

  • jefito

    I wasn’t.

  • HoopsGuy

    Well, we all have our personal preferences. This is the first negative review of it I’ve read out of many, but to each his own.

  • Matt

    Big fan and unfortunately this album fell short for me too. Unlike Jeff though, I love the Brigade record.

  • jefito

    You just melt for Richie Zito.

  • Russ

    I’ve only heard WTF and Sand, but I think jeff basically nailed it.

    WTF bugged me becaase it sounded like a waste of a good riff and the mix/mastering is god-awful. Every instrument is cranked to 11, so while Ann’s singing her voice gets obliterated in parts by cymbals. Maybe the problem is most alt-rock of the past 10 years is nothing but tuneless riffage and I’m sick to death of it. Or maybe the Wilson’s are such Led Zep fans that they think Them Crooked Vultures was a good record.

  • Anonymous

    I vote that we keep a running list of the most ridiculous/unfortunate song titles from the You Again? album roster. So far, I nominate Heart’s “WTF” and (the mack daddy of ‘em all) the Temptations’ “Shawtyismygirlooyeah”. Then we make Rob Smith devote at least one hundred words to each, since he can’t say no and stuff. Whatcha say, Mr. Giles, y’all?

  • jefito

    What a fiendish idea…

  • Anonymous

    Them Crooked Vultures was an *awesome* record. Red Velvet Car might have actually turned out OK if Josh Homme produced it.

  • DwDunphy

    This actually sounds like prime Listmania grist.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t absorbed the record quite like Jefito has, but the production does seem odd, especially coming from a guy like Ben Mink. I like the riffs in WTF, though.

  • jefito

    I like the riffs all over the record. I just wish they added up to actual songs.

  • Jfr343536

    i listened and enjoyed red velvet car. they should be put in hof.

  • grayflannelsuit

    I know it’s an album and not a song, but I’ll never forgive my beloved Queensryche for releasing an album called Q2K.

  • Ted

    I read the Rolling Stone review of this album and was curious to hear it, but now after reading your review, I’m less enthused about that prospect.

  • jefito

    I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews — I think I’m comfortably in the minority on this one. Check out the samples in that video.

  • DwDunphy

    Oh, the word on the grapevine is that Queensryche has not yet begun to confound you. Just wait.

  • DwDunphy

    I think a lot of those positives weigh heavily on the fact the album isn’t “All I Want To Do Is Make Love To You 2″ – It’s much like the hosannas U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind received initially. It’s a decent album that finds the band going back to a rock sound, but in retrospect isn’t the undeniable comeback it was made out to be.

  • Racyscooter_65mph

    I’ve had the album on repeat several days now. I love just about every song. Hey You feels too pop. My rockin’ favorites are There You Go, Queen City, Death Valley, Sarfronia’s Mark, and Wheels. But I love the slower stuff too — Red Velvet Car, Closer to the Sun, and In the Cool.

    I love it. I thought nothing would top Jupiter’s Darling, but Red Velvet Car is amazing. I recommend giving it a listen for yourself.

  • John

    I’ve bought AND listened to the album. It’s the type you can’t put down. Heavy, bass rich power cord accusticals. Lyrics that will worry you when you lie down to sleep. The rockers have very nearly the same sound of the 70’s, so much so that I was greatly surprised. Two things for sure the very first time you play this cd: One, there are no “filler” tunes. Two, the ladies are super serious about getting their unique sound back.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve wanted to love all their records – I stopped listening after Brigade – gave this one a listen and couldn’t agree more with the review above.  They are such a shadow of their former glory – it’s obvious they’re making “music for themselves” well good for you Wilson sisters – you’re the only ones who buy into the mediocre, flimsy nonsense – the day I’d give these two another penny… is the day they both start resembling normal human beings who care about their craft and music again.  They’ve turned into  post menopausal cartoons who couldn’t sell out a movie theater.

    These two don’t care about what they produce – guess what – fans don’t care anymore either.