No, no, no.
“No place to go/ Nowhere to turn/ Everything around us seems to burn burn burn.” This apocalyptic lyric fairly describes the aesthetic despair of listening to Hearts of Fire, the original soundtrack to the ill-fated 1987 drama starring Fiona, Rupert Everett and Bob Dylan. With all the warning signs evident from this unusual constellation, the unsuspecting consumer may be lured by the prospect of lesser-known Dylan backed by such legends as Ron Wood and Eric Clapton. To paraphrase Daniel Day Lewis’ award-winning performance as President Abraham Lincoln: No, no, no. It’s not much of a bargain, either—at press time, the least expensive copy available from US sellers on Discogs is $9.99. But it recently turned up in my favorite dollar bin at a price that better reflects its worth.
Despite the Hollywood bona fides of director Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi) and co-writer Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls),Hearts of Fire is a terrible movie, though not without a measure of camp value. It was an unfortunate swansong for Marquand, who died at the age of 49, before it was even released. Who needs the movie, you might think, if you have the soundtrack? Sure, maybe the ‘80s was Dylan’s worst era, but with his top billing, he must dominate the album? Sadly, despite circulating session tapes that prove Dylan recorded more (and better) songs for the movie, the marquee name only gets one more song than co-star Everett—and one less showcase than would-be ‘80s rocker Fiona.
Dylan stars as aging rocker Billy Parker, who connects with Molly McGuire (Fiona) , a tollbooth attendant by day and an aspiring rocker by night. Parker makes his first appearance on his motorcycle, stopping at his soon-to-be-lover’s booth (yes, they have an unlikely May-September affair) and mocking the song that wafts from her claustrophobic office: “Tainted Love,” sung by Rupert Everett, who stars as pop star James Colt.
The New Jersey-born Fiona, who dropped her surname Flanagan in a now-forgotten reach for single-name stardom, starts the album with a title track that offers the worst in ‘80s production values: a heavy drum sound, cheesy synths and an anonymous vocal straining for hard rock passion.
Why, you may ask, did the producers bother hiring one of the great singer-songwriters for a rock musical if they let his co-stars do most of the singing? Dylan naturally provides the best track on the album, but it’s not even one of his: it’s “The Usual,” a John Hiatt composition that the movie ironically treats as Parker’s signature song. It’s a solid rocker that sounds even better on session tapes that skimp on some of the ‘80s production sheen.
After that second-track cover, it’s all downhill from there. The album follows with the horrid ‘80ths synths of Fiona’s ballad “I’m in it for Love.” Maybe Daniel Lanois could have woven a swampy silk purse out of this, but there’s little anyone could have done with the sow’s ear of a lyric, “I’m not in it for the love of a stranger.” And then you get Rupert Everett’s cover of “Tainted Love.”
It doesn’t get much better from there, even with two more Dylan songs, the worst of which is responsible for the doom-laden lyric at the start of this piece. “Night After Night” is a synth-rock, reggae-tinged atrocity that may well be the nadir of what many consider his worst decade. Dylan gets one more shot with “Had a Dream About You Baby,” a throwaway that is a soothing balm after Everett’s “In My Heart.” But nothing can help ease the pain of Fiona’s closing track, “Let the Good Times Roll,” a bad-time original that pumps up the bar-band moves for one more circle of me-decade hell. Completists may be thrilled to find this album in a bargain bin; having actually listened to the whole thing, it’s best that we never speak of it again.