Heart Struts Rock New and Vintage in Bethlehem, Pa.
Heart Struts Rock New and Vintage in Bethlehem, Pa.

The venerable rockers' noteworthy year continues with the arrival of their new album at No. 24 on the Billboard 200.

Thirty-six years after first arriving on the Billboard 200 with the hard rock classic "Dreamboat Annie," which reached No. 7 in 1976 over a 100-week chart run, Heart is rocking harder than it has in years. This week, its crunchy new "Fanatic," the band's 14th studio album, launches at No. 24.

Nancy Wilson, who joined Heart in 1974, four years after her sister Ann, says that "Fanatic" continues the band's return to a "four-on-the-floor" rock sound that infused its last set, 2010's "Red Velvet Car." Bowing at No. 10, it became the group's first top 10 album since 1990.

"We and our producer, Ben Mink, whom we worked with on 'Red Velvet Car,' had our shorthand going on 'Fanatic.' We came to it conceptually that it would be the right time to do something even louder, more muscular and aggressive. That's what we do live on-stage, so to bring that energy to the album was the plan. Once in a while, it coalesces."

Heart notably navigated a detour of pop-flavored ballads penned by writers outside the band in the '80s and early '90s. "It was an artistically-compromising era for a lot of bands because of MTV. It was more important then to look the part than to have original material," Wilson says. "There was pressure to record someone else's songs. There was a pool of songwriters that wrote everyone's songs, it seemed. It was sort of a clique-ish, controlling era that we didn't feel a part of. Those songs [including the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s 'These Dreams' and 'Alone'] are still really beloved to us, but artistically we had a price to pay."

Still, Heart had a hand in authoring some of its hits from that period, including the 1988 No. 12-peaking "There's the Girl," which Wilson co-penned with pop/rock songwriter Holly Knight. "That's more like in the vein of [Heart's 1985 No. 4 hit 'Never']. Yeah, a lot of people really remember 'There's the Girl.' It's more of a cool dance-y song. It borrowed a little from the Prince and the Revolution vibe, I think."

In the 2000s, hard rock again defines the group's core sound. Not that there isn't a place still for sentiment. "Ann had the idea to call the album 'Fanatic'," Wilson says. "It's about being fanatical about love; romantic love, as well as a more global idea of love. I thought that was right up my alley. I'm a notorious love zealot myself. The title just fell right out of the sky. Just the right word for the job."

The album's arrival adds to a milestone year for Heart. On Sept. 18, the Wilsons released the autobiography "Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll." A week later, Heart was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "It feels really nice to be acknowledged, especially, too, because we have young children in our families," Wilson says. "They can always see the star and we can be remembered in a cool way. If there's anything you want to try to do, it's to echo forward with all the history that moves ahead, the dots that connect to the next generation. That's everything. If you can possibly do any of that in your lifetime, you're doing something right."

With "Fanatic," introduced with the title cut single, which debuts at No. 24 on the Heritage Rock airplay chart, and "Walkin' Good" (featuring Sarah McLachlan), which is building at adult contemporary, the band hopes to continue adding to its legacy. "We're having more fun with music than ever. It's the experience of creating something out of nothing. The artistic experience is really important to us," Wilson says. "The tradeoff is, you have to work harder. There's less of a reward system financially now. You work three times harder and get three times less.

"But, the music is healing. It's bigger than we are. So, we answer it. We're musicians. We love doing it."

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