Three of Hart’s Part 3: a deep dive into the first three albums from 2019 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Corey Hart concludes with 1986’s Fields of Fire.
There comes a point in every life, in every career, at which you can’t go back to where and who you once were. The gate closes, your passport’s revoked, and you are rendered a persona non grata. Corey Hart essentially hit that mark on June 18, 1986 — 369 days after releasing his second album, Boy in the Box. That’s the day his third record, Fields of Fire, dropped, as did his standing as a youthful, au courant pop-rock artist. All the cred and appeal amassed by his successful singles and the under-appreciated Boy in the Box was charred beyond recognition on the MOR funeral pyre lit by Fields of Fire.
He tried, he really did. Momentum was on his side, after all: Boy in the Box gave him his first Number 1 hits with “Never Surrender” and the audience-baiting “Everything in My Heart” in 1985. He was still milking that album at the start of ’86 with one last, underperforming single (“Eurasian Eyes) before switching gears and throwing himself behind the new record. Fields of Fire’s opening song and lead single “I Am By Your Side” took its cue from the success of “Never Surrender”. Eschewing syrupy, silly love song tropes for something more lyrically substantial, “I Am By Your Side” is not only an anti-ballad but also an anti-single. Despite its dated 80s-influenced production, the song’s understated grace and reserve — how it avoids blasting its anthemic chorus into the stratosphere with soul-barring histrionics — mark it among the best songwriting of Hart’s early work. To this layperson’s ears, it doesn’t scream “obvious single” which makes its success (a Canadian chart high of #6) that much sweeter.
Soon after, though, Fields of Fire begins to sour. It’s always suspect when a song or album title drops a gerund’s final g for an apostrophe; on very rare occasions does it feel right. Usually, as on the nauseating “Dancin’ With My Mirror”, it telegraphs desperation and a vain attempt at relevancy. Elsewhere, Hart mistakenly follows U2, Midnight Oil, and countless other contemporaries into politically-motivated songwriting. This wasn’t foreign territory to Hart. He had tackled subjects such as communism and apartheid on other records and participated in the famine-battling charity single “Tears Are Not Enough” earlier in the year. To put it in cultural context, Fields of Fire preceded the continent-spanning/history-making Live Aid concert by just under a month, but “Political Cry” is hardly a memorable rallying cry. “Politician’s in the night / Sleeping on the poor man’s plight / Politician’s running scared / Stuff their bellies what’s never shared / O de facto, coup d’etat Hypocrisy of Shangri-La / The king and queen, the knight and rook / Point your finger at the crook” is a mouthful of not-very-much and indicative of the rest of the song’s lyrics (to say nothing of the embarrassing accent he appropriates when singing “Poll-ee-tee-coll cry”). It feels painfully awkward and outside Hart’s lyrical wheelhouse. In modern parlance, “Political Cry” (along with “Broken Arrow” and “Is It Too Late?”) would never make it past the thirty-second mark to count as a stream.
And then Corey Hart jumps the shark with a cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. In ’86, Hart was ahead of the wave of contemporary artists covering 60s- and 70s-penned hits the following year (I’m looking at you, Tiffany, Kylie Minogue, Club Nouveau, Billy Idol, Kim Wilde, Bananarama, and Pseudo Echo). To his credit, he does Elvis Presley proud. The classic ballad is a good fit for Hart’s range and style and he makes it his own. But even though it gave him his third (and so far last) #1 single, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” also stripped Hart of any street cred still lingering from “Sunglasses At Night”. As the kids who first fell in love with the rebel from Montreal pivoted towards hair metal and hard rocker heartthrobs or made hard lefts towards college- and alternative- rock, Corey Hart relegated himself to MOR adult-contemporary purgatory for life, becoming every mom’s favourite singer. In essence, Hart became Roch Voisine before there was such a thing as Roch Voisine.
To his credit, I’m pretty sure Hart already knew this when Fields of Fire dropped. “O the youth how they drift away,” he sings on “Angry Young Man”, suggesting that Hart was starting to see himself as neither angry or youthful. His edge was dulled, if not completely gone, but what emerges, tucked into the bottom half of Side B, is a personal insight into who the guy in shades really was. “Jimmy Rae” is a stand-in for Hart himself, whose own non-existent relationship with his absentee father helped shape him into the career-motivated, self-made man he had become in just a few short years. Any glimpse Hart offered into his own emotional state of mind (like struggling with the trappings of fame and celebrity on Boy in the Box) was guarded and distant, and rightfully so. His public personna didn’t match who he actually was or wanted to be. As unfortunate as collapsing backstage after a show on the Fields of Fire world tour is, it afforded him a moment to rest and pause his career while he recalibrated as a maturing, more sincere singer-songwriter on 1988’s Young Man Running.
His record label may have underserved that record, but his loyal followers were still there. It just goes to that that even though times and trends change, the flame Hart first kindled in his most devoted admirers never wavered. Through a career of peaks and valleys, they were always on his side.