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Dog & Butterfly

Portrait 35555
Released: September 1978
Chart Peak: #17
Weeks Charted: 36
Certified Platinum: 10/27/78

Nancy WilsonAnn WilsonIf there were ever a group that appealed to my instincts as both woman and writer, Heart's the one. In the man's world of hard rock, their orientation is feminine. In an age of conglomerates, they got their start as a national act on a tiny independent label. Their success could be interpreted as blows against the empire. But none of this matters anymore.

Heart used to make a great story. Now they've made a great album.

Heart - Dog & Butterfly
Original album advertising art.
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I don't mean that Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen weren't intriguing records (or, for that matter, Magazine, the hodgpodge released as a settlement of contractual disputes with Mushroom). Right from the start, the Wilson sister figured there was more to rock and role reversal than tying someone to the whipping post. They liked the feel of silk as well as heavy metal, and saw no reason why they couldn't build the filigreed harmonies and acoustic intimacy of folk music onto solid rock. Until now, that meant their LPs seemed tacked together, that the heat generated by Ann Wilson's singing leaked out in windy interludes and codas.

Dog & Butterfly is Heart whole: they haven't plasterdover the contradictions in their ideas of women's rock, they've lived kup to and beyond them. Heart's message -- and it's an individual statement, not a political manifesto -- is all in its music. The album is kforthrightly divided into a boogie side (labeled Dog) and a ballad side (you got it -- Butterfly), but for all the artsiness of the conceit, it hangs together better than Dreamboat Annie's song cycle or Little Queen's desegregated tempos. There's a silky dexterity to the rockers, a steel edge to the ballads, no leaks anywhere. The Wilsons used to think that rigidly extended metaphors gave a song punch (making "Barracuda," say, more uptight than taught). Now they're confident enough at rock & roll to play with words, phrases and titles such as "High Time" and "Straight On." It's the melodies that rush into the ring, explode into harmony, bob and weave in teasing syncopation.

Then there are the Butterflies, but they're not the pretty scraps that fluttered right by you on earlier records. These are rock ballads in the Led Zeppelin tradition, exercises in agony and rapture (sometimes both). Full of portenous parables and pseudomysticism, the lyrics read like bad high-school poetry or something you might have said in your sleep. But it doesn't matter. If the words are vague, the emotions are set out in black and white, and the intensity mounts as surely as a stairway to heaven. No more piddling tempo shifts -- when such a shift comes, as in "Mistral Wind," it's a stunner, kicking the tune into high gear.

Somehow Heart manages to keep the ache and thunder believable, a sense of dignity amid the bombast. Nancy Wilson's guitar sets elegant counterpoint patterns against the melodies' deep purples and moody blues -- her playing is as fresh and welcome as a lucid thought among the lyrics' free associations. There's a clarity to Ann Wilson's voice, a directness. She doens't fool around much with tone or phrasing, she just gets louder and fiercer. It's not what she's singing, but the singing itself that gets to the point. Her voice slices through band member Howard Leese's beautiful, blowzy arrangements, saying: here, just here, this is where it hurts. It's this passionate precision and this precisely expressed passion that make both the boogie and ballads so persuasive. On Dog & Butterfly, Heart knows what it wants and exactly how to go after it.

- Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 11-30-78.

Bonus Reviews!

Heart, like Boston, is a band that would have been made to order by record-company execs if they'd only been smart enough, and that is what does them in, for me anyway. Putting two extremely attractive young ladies in front of a competent, unremarkable bunch of Led Zeppelin clones may be the sort of idea that is, on the face of it, unbeatably commercial, but it is worth noting that Heart's success story is at least partly the result of the kind of grass-roots support from the kids that the punk bands should have been able to garner. In other words, Heart may be bland, but they're not a hype. For all the slickness of the package, though, there's nothing on Dog & Butterfly that indicates the band has much to offer beyond the derivative heavy metal and the gimmick of Ann Wilson's willowy vocals. There's a lesson here, I think; maybe it's that if you're going to rewrite Led Zep, you'd better come up with your own "Stairway to Heaven" before you start making a stadium-attraction nuisance of yourself.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/79.

One of the most endearing traits about Heart has been its ability to effectively switch off between heavy metal hard rock and romantic and acoustic interludes, often within the context of one song. On this LP the division is more marked. The first side, the "Dog" side, features Heart as a straight-ahead rock band. Though only the first song of the side was recorded live, the whole side sounds as if it could have been. Side two is a bit more ambitious, and at the same time more effective. There are more quiet moments, and the Wilson sisters -- Nancy on acoustic guitar, and Ann on vocals -- have more of an opportunity to show off their individual talents. Best cuts: "Dog & Butterfly," "Nada One," "Lighter Touch."

- Billboard, 1978.

Georgia Christgau: "Robert Plant understands his place as second-string guitar posing as a lead singer. He should -- he thought it up. But this idea is belittling to Ann Wilson. 'I have a great voice!' her songs seem to say, and so she may -- but what is it doing preening here among all these seamy heavy metal types?" C

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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