Heart Shaped World

Chris Isaak

1989: Reprise 9 25837-2

  1. Heart Shaped World
  2. I’m Not Waiting
  3. Don’t Make Me Dream About You
  4. Kings of the Highway
  5. Wicked Game
  6. Blue Spanish Sky
  7. Wrong to Love You
  8. Forever Young
  9. Nothing’s Changed
  10. In the Heat of the Jungle
  11. Diddley Daddy

I’ll be upfront about this: “Wicked Game” was what I first heard of Chris Isaak, and I got this album originally because of that and how gasp-inducingly handsome he appeared. It’s not lofty, but it’s honest. However, after actually listening to the album, I found that he was significantly more talented than I tend to expect someone that pretty to actually be, so much so that I got his next album (San Francisco Days) and his previous two (Silvertone and Chris Isaak) in order to know this one’s context.

Of the four I have (and I don’t rule out adding his more recent work to my collection, I just haven’t done so), this might be the finest…and if it’s not, San Francisco Days certainly is. The first two albums weren’t bad, but they’re clearly Isaak and band members finding some identity and a definitive “sound,” a process which resulted in the confident delivery of this album and everything that followed.

I’m not particularly a fan of the gentle-coyote-howling style of crooning that Isaak uses on “Wicked Game” and other numbers, but he manages to make it almost appealing. There is a sensitivity and intimacy about his voice that forces me to not just sympathize but even wish to comfort…which is a dangerous power, and I can only hope that he uses it responsibly in his personal life. (Although recently [November 2004] I happened to catch a glimpse of Isaak performing on Austin City Limits, and he made a comment between songs about meeting a female fan to give her “guitar lessons” and how she was still spitting out sequins a few days later….)

Right, so apart from the song that got me and everyone else introduced to Chris Isaak who didn’t already know about him, I’d have to say that “Diddly Daddy” (which wasn’t on the vinyl or cassette releases of this album), the title track, “I’m Not Waiting,” and “Wrong To Love You” are the reasons I keep playing this album and delight in its existence.

And although I’m not at the moment inclined to post a review of his album Silvertone, I want to note that his song “Western Stars” is a lovely piece of cowboy noodling that he brings off beautifully, and when k.d. lang covered it soon afterwards (on her Shadowland) it already sounded classic (but his recording, the original, was just a smidgen more poignant).