Even Ann Wilson has to agree: 2012 has been a surreal year for Heart.
The legendary singer-songwriter behind such massive hits (and karaoke faves) as "Crazy on You" and "Barracuda" can't fully wrap her brain around the current flurry of activity surrounding the rock band she's fronted for more than 35 years with her sister, guitarist/songwriter Nancy Wilson. In March they earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; in June they released career-spanning box set Strange Euphoria; September saw the publication of their autobiography Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll; they're nominated (again) for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and now they've released Fanatic, arguably their most straightforward, hardest-rocking record yet.
"I really feel it's, so far, our best work," Wilson says. "It's our heaviest album, it's our rockingest album, and I think that the messages in the songs are probably our most focused and meaningful yet. I think the album represents us at our ages now quite well. Our philosophies and experience levels, the kind of stuff we want to talk about and sing about now is much different than what we wanted to sing about when we were 25 years old."
What they write about now may be different than when they started out, but oddly enough, little else is. After all these years, men still dominate the world of rock'n'roll, particularly hard rock.
"Maybe it's just not cool among women right now," she laughs. "Maybe it's too unsophisticated. Maybe chicks wanna be more sophisticated right now."
But there's still a culture that equates rock with being a "guy thing."
"It's funny because it doesn't have to be," Wilson says. "You don't have to emulate a man to do rock. I think women have to really — when they do rock — make a parallel universe. Make a new way of doing it. But it's not easy. It's really not easy."
Heart have had their share of bumps and near-break-ups. The band's popularity took a nosedive in the mid-'80s and arguably in the early 2000s, when the group mostly benefitted from nostalgia touring and karaoke culture embracing Wilson's ferocious vocals. After Nancy left the band for a few years, Wilson could have packed it in, but she didn't.
"I've never wanted to because music has always been my life," Wilson says. "There have been times when I've known it was time to reinvent; that definitely something had to die so something else could be born. That happened after the 1980s with Heart. Reinvention is the key for me."
But reinvention isn't always easy. Just ask Guns N' Roses or Def Leppard or Glass Tiger. None of them has had a 2012 that looks anything like the one Heart has.
"We stay inside it," Wilson offers. "We're never looking at it from the outside in, like 'Hmmm, let's see, what can I do to get on the radio? How can I skin this cat and form an image that will be sellable?' We don't think that way. We're always inside it, looking out. When we write songs we talk pretty honestly about what's going on in our lives, how we react to what's going on in society. Our love affairs, our friendships, our disappointments, our triumphs. It's written from that internal standpoint; maybe that's what's helped us."
Fanatic is out now via Sony Music.
You can read more of Exclaim!'s recent Heart interview here.