Wow. It’s been 6 years since Heart has released an album, but their chops have never been better. There are 10 solid tunes on this album that will renew your faith in the band, make you a Heart fan all over again, or if you’re lucky enough to be hearing them for the first time, make you a brand new fan.
The sisters from Seattle have released 12 previous albums with varying levels of commercial success; but after repeated listens, I am convinced this is their best work to date. Time will tell how well it does in the charts, but it won’t matter. This is the band’s crowning achievement.
If there was any doubt that aging rockers could make great albums, forget about it. Red Velvet Car is proof of that they can. It is not just a good album, it is an excellent album. It is not just a collection of great songs either. The songs weave themes, imagery and symbolism together so tightly and artfully you get more than the sum of the parts: you get a masterpiece. With each repeated listen each song takes on deeper connotations and the imagery gets richer and richer. The songs become stones in a mosaic. As you step back it reveals itself to be much bigger than it seems.
This one deserves a track by track review.
1. There You Go
This is a great choice for a first song because musically it kind of defines the laid back soul funk groove style that the band has become known for. Lyrically, it sketches a vague yet familiar character. Welcome to America 2010.
“Now is there anywhere left to go?
The highest highs lowest lows
A friend with a doctor
A friend with a gun
You got big trouble you better run.”
…There you go again”
If the characters on the album experience déjà-vu, so does the listener. The music is drenched in dreamy 70’s style licks, riffs and themes. This is a refreshing album for long time Heart fans. Gone are the over the top keyboards and synthesizers as there were in Heart’s 80’s pop phase. There are keyboard washes throughout the album but they are used so tastefully you barely notice them. They work to add a layer of darkness and mystery to the songs.
This is a straight on rock tune that reaches out to a generation that finds itself frenetically spinning in a web of social media, unaware of the consequences or at least not caring.
“How much talking does it take
Talkin’ bout your bad mistakes?
I’m gonna talk you wide awake
Talk until your ego breaks
… The hardest thing ya ever learn is
What bridge to cross and what bridge to burn.”
3. Red Velvet Car.
This is the mellowest tune on the album. It is a ballad perfectly placed and seems to offer a ray of hope or at least offers a tired world a way out, if not an escape.
“Maybe you got hit real hard
Maybe you are on the floor
People screaming out your name
Cuz they don’t trust you anymore
I’m coming for you
“So pull your weary bones inside
You can sleep while I drive
Watch the moon out on the lake
I won’t even touch the brake
In my red velvet car”
The fourth track, Queen City is a good example of the sound the band was going for on this release. Plenty of acoustic guitar, Ann Wilson’s powerful and soulful vocals, and even a guest appearance by a church bell make this cut a real treat on the headphones.
5. Hey You
Ann Wilson steps up to the microphone on Hey You and delivers a fun country tinged ballad complete with a catchy “Na, Na , Na” chorus. It is the most overt pop song on the album but is perfectly placed in the middle of the record, contrasting the mood of its surroundings.
They band rolls right back into the dark with “Wheels”. This tune uses a funky, driving bass riff to carry it along. This is the point in the album where you start to see a faint image of something familiar emerging out of the fog.
7. Safronia’s Mark
Safronia’s Mark combines great acoustic blues riffs with slide guitar and mandolin in a tasty mix of Americana. Lyrically we are confronted with some real life blues.
“She took the stain
How can she fly?
How can she fly on a broken wing?
That carries the stain of everything
Sarfronia’s soul is wandering
She just walked on by”
8. Death Valley
Death Valley is the best song on an album of great ones. The imagery becomes palpable in it intensity, It gets downright dangerous and intoxicating. A menacing, chordal guitar riff opens the tune and sets the mood for what is the pure poetry of the lyrics. It is tempting to include the lyrics in their entirety here, but it is better to discover this song for oneself. The setting is a lonely ride through a desert.
“I texted you in desperation
I said heaven forbid this place
It’s hotter than hell
And I’m losing my cool
This is not of the human race.
A thousand miles to go
What if the engine should break down
What if the tires should blow
What if my souls should slip off this bus
And land in the inferno
Bouncing and tumbling over
Watching in vain for a change
A windmill, a billboard, a Joshua tree
Rusted at home on the range”
Ann Wilson returns to offer a ray of hope with this gentle rocker. There is still a place for love amid the dark confusion. It is as if Ann is the light and Nancy is the dark on this record, but it works well to break things up and provide needed contrast.
The finale is another perfectly placed song. It is a medium tempo rock tune that features some excellent guitar work by Ann Wilson. Here, the author bids a kind of farewell, but it is a farewell to the illusions of despair created by the previous songs.
“A trick of light upon our eyes
A trick of time upon our lives
Ancient songs cry out to you
And surely this we sing
Is slipping through
Slipping through the glass of time
Surely this sweet sand will run out
Bye and Bye
And while the days come down to you
You are just a traveler passing through”
This album is a rare occurrence. It is inspiring in its ability to make 70’s rock relevant again by somehow reaching backwards and forwards in time and simultaneously staring the present straight in the face- and not backing down. Congratulations to everyone involved in this masterpiece.