No one had high expectations for Heart’s comeback in the early ’00s. After all, this is a band whose career trajectory seemed on a sharp decline after its fiery ’70s hits (“Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and “Crazy On You”) gave way to a softer, adult-contemporary sound in the ’80s (“These Dreams,” “Alone,” and the atrocious “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You”) and faded to near obscurity in the early ’90s.
Surprisingly, though, Heart has snapped itself off of that path to boringness. The band’s three albums in the last decade—2004’s Jupiters Darling, 2010’s Red Velvet Car, and this year’s Fanatic—have all been a welcome return to the band’s edgy, rocking sound. Where Heart traditionally relied on the sister act of Ann Wilson’s outstanding vocal range and Nancy Wilson’s classic guitar riffs, the group’s recent work is recognizable more due to the consistency and control of Ann’s powerful voice, as Nancy’s riffs just don’t have the same gritty edge that they used to.
As a result of the de-emphasis on memorable guitar riffs, the songs on Fanatic that succeed the most are the ones on which Ann’s voice soars: The title track smolders with angst while she absolutely wails on the feisty “Million Miles,” showing that the upper stratum of her range hasn’t faded with age. “Dear Old America” is a bluesy rocker reminiscent of Melissa Etheridge’s approach to angst, and “Mashallah” sounds like a relic from the band’s arena days.
The album falters when Heart softens its approach: The folksy “Walkin’ Good” (with an unnecessary guest appearance from Sarah McLachlan) is a snooze, “Pennsylvania” drags on with a heavy sigh, and the repetitive, psychedelic “Corduroy Road” ends the album with a whimper. There are a few too many of these mellower numbers to make this a true return to form, but on its high points, Fanatic shows a remarkable energy from a band that could’ve just coasted into soft-rock oblivion.