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Class ?

Main Category: Folk Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Roots Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Tom Petty fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Tom Petty fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1976

Look out, here comes Mr Rock'n'Roll to save Lord Rock'n'Roll. Not really? Or does he? Did he? Could he? Or is life just a pop goes the weasel sorta thing?

In any case, this is a damn enjoyable album, like any good guy will tell you. It's pretty funny how pretty aggressive Tom looks in that BLACK LEATHER on the front cover, no wonder so many people put "Tom Petty" and "The Ramones" in one sentence when remembering nineteen seventy-six with fondness. Although, of course, musically the Heartbreakers, despite the name, had little to do with punk in its musical essence. This is ten songs which are just your basic boogie, folk rock and country rock (no generic blues for miles around - generic blues is no fun for these guys! Kinda like for CCR in their best period). The important thing is that instead of taking other people's songs, kicking them smack dab below the waist, analyzing the result and putting it, still bleeding and protesting, onto his own record, Tom actually went through all the trouble of penning his own, one hundred percent his own melodies.

Like the radio hit, 'Breakdown', for instance. Look at that sudden pause and unexpected change of riff when the verse segues into the chorus... ever heard this melody before? Nope. And mind you, I don't say "this kind of thing", because you certainly have heard this kind of thing before. It's just that in 1976, Tom Petty wanted to tell everybody that the classic rock'n'roll formula was still milkable (something that he keeps telling everybody up to this very day, too). And, well, to some extent it was. It just took a very skilful and witty dairymaid to milk it, and Petty qualified. Well, not always. If you axe me really nice and sweet, I'll tell you one big secret - songs like 'Hometown Blues' actually suck, because you're either a genius when you're making ultra-simple one-chord tunes or you're taking too much responsibility on yourself, and since it would be an insult to Paul McCartney to call Tom a 'genius', well...

But in any case, really nice and creative songs like 'Breakdown' aren't at all marred by filler like 'Hometown Blues'. And sometimes you get pleasant surprises, too, because a song that's called 'Anything That's Rock'n'Roll' and starts with an entirely predictable barroom riff actually builds up and up through that pretty little Beatlesque chorus and through that "double solo" that's truly rock'n'roll and ends up being anthemic without being overbearing. However, for me the really solid tunes are mostly represented on the second side, when the "introduction" is over and Tom cooks up a few tunes that add 'mood' and sometimes even dare to be one minute longer than necessary for the 'long live rock'n'roll' atmosphere.

'Strangers In The Night', for instance. The little touches! The echoey vocals, with a whiff of sarcasm and menace... the 'nasty' guitar tone... the "robotic" 'strangers in the na-yeee-aight" chorus. It's not just basic rock'n'roll, it has the edge, although, granted, this edge didn't make much of an impact in 1976. Or 'Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)'. One might actually hate Tom's voice out there, and somehow the strained 'I don't like it... I don't like it' moans sometimes seem like a bad Mick Jagger parody, but there's a weird threatening aura around the song which works better than, uh, Aerosmith, for instance. Maybe it's all because of the minimalism. And don't forget 'Luna', one of Tom's best ballads - the 'scattered' drumbeats and isolated synth chirps which introduce the song aren't really as odd as Petty's vocal intonations. Coupled with slight little moans from the background synthesizer, they result in a particularly crazy "poor man moody blues" effect that I personally have encountered on here for the first time.

Of course, the 'moody numbers' have their beginning and end; it's crucially important for Petty and the band to bookmark the album with short rousing rock'n'roll numbers, so that both even have the same drum pattern - 'Rockin' Around (With You)' is a pure Sixties throwback with guitar interplay a la Stones and vocal harmonies a la Sonny and Cher (no really!), and the minor hit 'American Girl' steals its jangle from the jangliest band of the same epoch (three guesses), but adds an independent vocal melody anyway. In this way, both the little guys who don't give a damn and the smarter guys who do give a damn get their money's worth by acquiring this record, the first ones through 'American Girl' and the second ones through 'Luna'. And everyone's happy, although I, for one, am not entirely sure if Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers has a true chance of living through the centuries. Unless, of course, they feature 'The Wild One, Forever' in a George W. Bush documentary or something like that.



Year Of Release: 1978

The rating of a Tom Petty album can be decided upon from two contradictory angles. One is the idea that all Tom Petty albums sound the same, and thus should all get the same rating, with maybe a half star more for the first album for originality. That's the simple approach, which is perfectly justified (hey, I use it for quite a lot of bands myself). But more fun is the idea of carefully and lustfully nitpicking over these records and allow as large a rating scope as possible by evaluating the hooks and the lacks thereof one by one. This bring us dangerously close to ultra-subjectivity, of course, but hey, I've given you out the warning.

And anyway, what the heck is this record - two years in between two albums both of which basically sound like they've been written in one day and recorded in two hours? It's not exactly The Wall, if you be a-gettin' my meaning. This is called lack of discipline, if you ask me, and a pretty piss-poor album, too. Same as before, but without the freshness and without the hooks. And without a "mood-emphasizing" second side either; just your basic ten rock'n'rollers/ballads some of which don't sound all that different from Foreigner, except that the production is always better. In fact, this is Petty's salvation; he has the key to good production, so that even if the song is a complete throwaway it still sounds energetic and optimistic, whereas Foreigner will make even their best material sound constipated and ugly, with a rhythm section that can't swing and a guitar player who can't even hit a power chord without forgetting to lick it clean.

I'll give it to Tom, though, he did put at least one rock'n'roll masterpiece on here. 'I Need To Know' is a magnificent piece of Sixties-influenced proto-punk-guitar influenced power-pop boogie (ah, I love these twisted definitions), with a chorus I'd personally die for were I a member of Einsturzende Neubauten. What can be cooler than Tom singing 'I need to know' and his echo answering him exactly that and A BIG FAT HOOK climbing out of it? Nothing, except for Britney Spears and a Pepsi bottle, I guess.

Unfortunately, not a single song out of the rest ever sticks in my head - maybe it's just my problem, and I'm pretty sure by the eighth listen or so the songs will fall in their predictable places, but problem is, Tom Petty isn't exactly Peter Hammill; this stuff is supposed to be immediately catchy, and if it doesn't grow on you upon the second listen at max, you know there's a problem. Even the second biggest song, 'Listen To Her Heart', while it really tries to seduce you with its Byrdsey jangle, just really annoys me because there's nothing of interest but the Byrdsey jangle out there, and you know, if I want to hear Byrdsey jangle, I can always check out a certain band that came long before Tom Petty and did it better. What band, you be asking me? Why, Herman's Hermits, of course!

The title track has no audible melody I'm really aware of - the vocals don't even gel with whatever rudimentary musical background there is. The ballad 'Magnolia' is the only thing on here that aims for atmosphere and for the most part fails, sounds like a late Free outtake or something, heck, at least 'Luna' had that bizarre mystique going for it. 'Too Much Ain't Enough' boogies along with power and all, but the riff is nicked off AC/DC's version of 'Baby Please Don't Go' (or at least seriously reminds me of it) and doesn't look all that swell in perspective. And the same "so-so" twirls of my nose occur on most other occasions. At least the bona fide pair of 'Restless' and 'Baby's A Rock'n'Roller' that closes off the record isn't a bad way to say goodbye - the former has a solid build-up in the chorus (nice idea to have all the 'I'm restless, restless, restless' pile upon each other and then crash them down onto the main three chord riff), and the latter has an almost annoyingly catchy chorus.

But all the same, a very disappointing follow-up for me (and not just for me, so it seems). It's not like I expected any development or musical growth, it's Tom Petty for Jesus' sake, but you know, just remember what I wrote about geniuses above. This isn't a bad album, really (no Petty album is a bad one), yet those who crave for high quality, not Petty quality, would better be recommended to stay away as long as possible. Hear that? Or else You're Gonna Get It!



Year Of Release: 1979

If anything, it's too little of a rock'n'roll album - look how much country and folk influence this one has! By 1979, Tom Petty had pretty much squeezed out the last drops of the Punk In Him, and that's kinda ironic considering that Damn The Torpedoes is often taken as not only his most successful, but also his most angry and pissed-off album, all due to lengthy battles with MCA over his creative freedom (as if he was Captain Beefheart or somebody). And large parts of it are angry, but certainly not in a punkish way. And somehow, with this mix of moderately intelligent rock'n'roll, folk, country and the laidback Southern vibe, he managed to hit the jackpot, with no less than four big hits and an album that is now forever embedded as a "classic".

Along the lines of Exile On Main Street, prob'ly - it's not so much the songs as the overall quality of the record itself that seduces people so much. It seduces me, too, although the hooks are way too unobvious on the album to garner more than a "default Petty rating" from me. I mean, yeah, the guy was certainly the most obvious candidate to step into the shoes of John Fogerty at this time, but very few songs on here, if any, actually reach Fogerty quality. Ah well, still something nice and fresh to relax to in the ominous dark days of 1979 when you neither wanted to hear the rambunctious New Wave of the Police nor soddy Bee Gees disco nor the bland arena-rock of Foreigner.

Five songs out of nine really stand out in the subjective case of this particular reviewer (not a bad percentage either, eh?). 'Refugee' is a good album opener, cuz you know, you have to get something epic to open your album once in a while, and here we have an ominous, threatening, aggressive tune with a catchy chorus and a social message that Mick Jagger later reprised in his immortal chef-d'oeuvre, the progressive humanity anthem "Let's Work". Ah well, he was only taking away what was his from the start anyway, because 'Refugee' sounds very Stonesy to me. Like 'Heartbreaker', perhaps, or things like that.

Then there's 'Here Comes My Girl', where the actual hook is really as simple as "let's scream out these verses as wildly and as incoherently as possible, and then top it off with a gentle gentle loving loving chorus and the contrast will do the trick" and the dumbest thing happens, it actually does. This one could also pass for a Stones song, though. You tell me Petty isn't trying to imitate Jagger's sharpness with his vocals, and I'll tell you, if that's the case, then nobody never imitates no-one at all. It's not that I care - I wonder how many people would find the idea offensive anyway? Are there any Stones haters in this world who love Tom Petty? And if yes, then why, Daddy?

Then, some would probably bypass 'Shadow Of A Doubt (The Complex Kid)', but hey, that wouldn't be me! It's got grit, it's got the edge! It sounds very much like a classic Sixties popster, but there's some little bit of that aggression that's typically Seventies, I reckon. The 'she got me asking questions, she got me on defense' line couldn't be sung any better - a little Dylanish nasality, a little strain, a little constipation, and there you are with an implanted hook, brilliantly resolved with the 'she's a complex ki-i-i-i-e-e-a-a-ad' growl. You can't really beat that. Unless you're playing 'Do Me Like That', the most modernistic track on the album (all it lacks is the Cars' keyboardist to play some diddly-doodly in the background instead of that wimpy one-finger-on-the-piano thing) whose chorus could certainly compete in catchiness with 'Shadow Of A Doubt'.

Finally, there's 'Louisiana Rain', with its weird quasi-avantgarde one minute intro, and it's Tom's first and maybe best attempt at a 'Ramblin' Man Reaches Sweet Virginia' kind of song - a sensitive country ballad with a good beat and lots of slide guitar all over the place. Generic it may be, but the exact melody isn't something that's overtly familiar to me, really. However, I think the main factor here is still the vocal delivery; and the fact is, Tom doesn't have an instantly recognizable voice (unless you're his mother or his road manager, of course), but he's fairly good at assuming somebody's style, and if his nasality were just a little bit complemented with roughness and croakiness, nobody in the world could have distinguished him from Dylan while singing 'Louisiana Rain'. And you know, a guy who's got the "Dylan streak" in him (and that leaves you out, Mr Working Class Hero Bruce "Rambo" Springsteen!) is instantly cool with me. And should be instantly cool with you. That's an order.

I won't say anything about the other four songs - they're all nice, but since I don't remember anything about them upon the fifth listen, this really leaves me with two alternatives, either to leave 'em out of my review or to write a 3000 page dissertation on why the hooks on 'Even The Losers' are weaker than the ones on 'Shadow Of A Doubt', after which a smartass guy will come along and say, 'oh you know, piss off with your subjective judgement'. So I just leave you with the first alternative, nicely and surreptitiously washing my hands.



Year Of Release: 1981

Another opportunity for everybody to witness it ain't that hard to write a good rock'n'roll tune - all it takes is put three chords together so that they sound similar to one of the miriads of emotional states you occasionally find yourself in. On the downside, though, as usual, only about half of these songs are really truly and verily interesting, especially when taken in the general context of everybody who did this stuff before Tom.

That said, what a better way to begin an album than with 'The Waiting'? Structurally, it's somewhat of a re-write of 'Here Comes My Girl', using the same principle of contrasting screamed verses with gentle refrains, but the melody sure is different, and the chorus is just as catchy as you'd expect a classic junkyard-stinkin' open hearted workin-class' country-western chorus to be. A good opportunity to enjoy Petty's exaggerated accent as well. And then there's 'A Woman In Love', a song that Foreigner should have studied in their luxury suites had they wanted to clean up their reputation with at least one good album; eliminating just a few elements, Tom shows here how a typical arena-rock standard can be thoroughly cheese-clean. There's the same "power" guitar riff set to bombastic drums in the chorus and a singalong chorus you could wave your lighter to, but the production is intentionally a little bit down-to-earth so that the song sounds live and fresh. You can also note the organ in the background - so much more lively than your average synthesizer, and I don't even mention that the singing is perfectly adequate. And that's the trick; if you wanna know the truth, the biggest problem with Foreigner wasn't even the slick inoffensive riffs or the lack of melodic talent, it was Lou Gramm's totally inappropriate singing style that should have been reserved, uh, for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I guess. When you're playing your basic three chords, you don't try to sound like Pavarotti, you sound like Tom Petty, and then - with some reservations - it's genius.

Let's now see the other highlights. I don't really know what's the story behind the little Southern mystique of 'Something Big', but I certainly know it's yet another consistent and gritty mid-tempo rocker in the vein of 'Complex Kid', basically volume two of that song but I can't complain. I could definitely complain were it sung by somebody else rather than Tom, again, a typical case of a so-so melody made great by a creative delivery, geez, I can even pinpoint the heart and soul of the hook: that very second in the chorus where Tom goes 'working on something biiiieeeegg...'. There's nothing that works better on your conscience than a well-placed harsh snarl at times, you only have to know where and how to place it, and Tom does.

There's also the gentle graceful organ-tinged Southern pop of 'Letting You Go' which totally woos me over, and a Dylan-esque highlight in 'The Criminal Kind', where Petty goes a little overboard while riding the Master's coattails, but at least he gives the song a good arrangement, with slide guitars and organs all over the place... I almost wanted to say 'a better arrangement than Dylan himself could give it', but luckily I checked my senses and understood how much of a blunder I'd have committed had I said that.

There are also rockers like 'A Thing About You' and 'King's Road' on here which I personally find less attractive, but it's just me, they're not all that different, you know. Actually, the only two songs that do seem a bit irritating are the two ballads which Petty sings in a duet with Stevie Nicks... not sure if they actually tried to collaborate on these two (look up the credits for me, please, I'm too lazy to do that by myself, because Hard Promises put me in a lazy mood), but in any case they sound very much like some of Stevie's really weakest material. Just the same three chords but without the snarl and, furthermore, without the catchiness. I mean, 'Insider' sure is no 'Louisiana Rain', it just goes repeating the same tired musical phrase over and over and over and over. And the funniest thing is, Tom and Stevie actually undermine each other: Nicks is barely heard in the mix, and Tom's nasal mumble is only made less distinct because you keep trying to separate it from the interference of Stevie's vocals. The second ballad, 'You Can Still Change Your Mind', where Nicks is confined to isolated backing vocals, is a little better but still no great shakes. Nah, Tom definitely needs some rhythmic power for his ballads.

Apart from that, though, it's still your basic Tom Petty. Good song, okay song, filler song, okay song, good song. You know how it goes. Any musical advances? Mmmm.... errrrhhmmm.... ugghghhh... guess not. Move on down the line.



Year Of Release: 1982

Yet another record that's totally interchangeable with its predecessors, and I guess even Petty's admirers must have gotten nervous about the man's total reluctance (or inability?) to change his style at least a tiny bit, because Long After Dark never got the same kind of rave revues his previous albums did. Some even claimed that the album was uninspired, which really puzzles me: it sounds about just as inspired as every preceding one. Maybe it's because the emphasis here is slightly shifted to 'mood' as opposed to 'rawk!' on, say, Damn The Torpedoes: the album entirely lacks a fast gritty smashin' rocker like 'Refugee', for instance. So there are more ballads and more 'relaxed' pop-rock tunes that feature Tom in a state of introspective suspension.

But since when does that mean "inferior"? True, filler abounds on this album, but in the very same way as it abounds in the basic tenets of the unsophisticated mind of Mr Petty at any given stage of his career. But is any record with 'Change Of Heart' on it deeming of anything less than what I gave it? Featuring one of the most complex choruses in the Petty catalog, and one of the more intense too. What with all the complaints directed against his voice, Petty is a master of building a hook upon the very power of his strained nasal delivery - he seems to be pressing his hard-working larynx so hard the sounds escaping from his mouth can be taken as the impersonation of the "man with a serious psychological problem" approach. Listen to the 'there's been a chaaaaange' vocal overdub, for instance, the one placed right after the 'you push it just a little too far' and 'you make it just a little too hard' lines. That's a hook, mister, and a heartbreaking one if you let yourself sink deep into it. And all because Mr Petty doesn't seem to have the vocal chops of Bruce Dickinson.

There's also 'You Got Lucky' on here, which was the record's main hit, and it's very visibly different from the rest of the songs; the synthesizers carry the melody instead of the guitars, and the drums are - very slightly, but still - electronically emphasized as opposed to the far more down-to-earth production of the other songs on here. It's not a bad song, but it sure suffers from the "let's turn this one into a hit single!" complex, and the lyrical approach on here is kinda primitive, I'd say. 'Good love is hard too find, yeah you got lucky babe, when I found you'. I would personally expect these lines to pop up on a Bad Company record... and it's not that Petty is a great lyricist or anything, but if you're not a great lyricist, don't make the mistake of taking a particularly stupid line and sticking it right in the face of your listeners like a rotten fish.

So instead of the overprocessed hit, let's enjoy the Heartbreakers for what they did best, which is straightforward friendly rock'n'roll. 'Deliver Me' delivers, with another of those emotionally warm and welcoming choruses that seem to make Tom Petty the friendliest guy on earth even if I don't have the least idea of what he actually does the moment he's offstage. Maybe he's an asshole like Bob Dylan, or something worse. 'Deliver Me' sure doesn't offer any evidence in that department, though. Neither does 'We Can Stand A Chance', the most "experimental" song on the album - yeah, because it features a radically new rhythm guitar tone, although the hookline is somewhat blurred. Am I the only one to think that Tom is at his best when he sings alone, without the Heartbreakers backing him or without several overdubs of his own voice? I actually like the "grizzly pleading" intonations of the verses on the song better than the actual chorus.

The album sure gets bogged down a bit towards the end, but the Heartbreakers had such a terrific collective sound worked out by this time that I don't really mind - I can't remember how 'The Same Old You' or the never-ending 'Between Two Worlds' actually go, but I just enjoy them as hot groovy [slow] jams, with the band ripping it up in a way that Bad Company never could because they were Bad Company and the Heartbreakers are the Heartbreakers. And then the record closes with 'A Wasted Life' which sounds like an inferior John Lennon outtake that fell into Petty's hands by pure chance. It's not a classic, but it's a suitable ending to this soft, becalming album. It also shows that, interchangeable or not, the band has still managed to make their sound more profound as compared to the days of You're Gonna Get It: in 1982, even some of their most obvious filler sounded like it had some real soul to it. If you don't believe me, I guess I could expand on that, but you know, a guy going into details about why a 1979 Tom Petty album is worse than a 1982 Tom Petty album is a guy who could really use a life. And I haven't even reviewed all those Motley Crue records yet!



Year Of Release: 1985

Lo and behold - here comes a breakthrough. Short and temporary, but still. Many a reviewer has condemned this poor little album as a particularly disgusting (aka boring/dumb/unsuccessful) anomaly in the Petty catalog, docking the album a couple points for its "obnoxious" weirdness. Me, I actually throw on extra points - whether the weirdness works or doesn't work don't bother me much, the important thing is - this is one friggin' WEIRD kind of weirdness.

See, this is supposed to be some kind of a conceptual album from Mr Petty, where he, all of a sudden, remembers his Southern roots and tries to celebrate his redneck ways with a few tossed-off anthems about the good old hickie days. (That rhymes, doesn't it?). Now if this were coming from the Byrds, we'd expect a happy generic boring-as-shit country album with not a single original melody and a lot of songs like 'Christian Life'. Actually, I would expect more or less the same from Tom Petty as well, considering his serious infatuation with the Byrds and all. Corny generic redneck throwaway stuff.

Instead, what we get is a gloppy, confused, absolutely desoriented mess of an album which seems to embrace just about everything - classic rock, New Wave, funky beats, even psychedelia, and just a little bit of actual "redneck music". Now you know, I don't know that much about Mr Petty, but I'm pretty sure Mr Petty ain't that much of a half-assed idiot to think that he can record something like this and then declare it a 'pro-Southern rock' album. I mean, if you axe me, this whole "conceptuality" schtick is grossly overblown. And, in fact, there's only one song on the entire album to glorify 'redneck ways' (title track), and it's almost immediately compensated by including a song that couldn't be deemed "pro-Southern" by even the most conservative truck driver ('Spike'), much less Tom himself.

In short, this is a confused album, and I'd bet my head that it's intentionally confused - and intentionally confusing. Unlike any of the preceding five albums, the songs are pretty much all unpredictable - just as you think you 'got' it, it turns out you didn't get it nohow. As for what concerns melodic quality, I'd say this whole shenanigan is on par with the rest of Tom's stuff: a couple undeniable classics, and then there's a lot of evenly-written mediocre-to-good stuff, you know, just the kind of material for us rock lovers to worry about whether song A has more hooks than song B or not. So it gets the usual three and a half stars for pure musical quality, and an extra half-star for the unpredictable and confusing weirdness. (And I may be alone on that one, too, but what do I care? At least I get the gentleman props for not having to call Petty 'stupid' and 'disoriented').

The first three songs are my favourites. 'Rebels' kicks off the record in more or less traditional style (although the big booming drums already hint at a change in production values), and it's actually the best Southern-rock style song on the record. In fact, I don't care if it does say 'down in Dixie' or it doesn't, heck, I like some Lynyrd Skynyrd, what do I know. The important thing is, it's so goddamn emotional it should immediately be placed into the 'Refugee' camp. And Petty's heavily slurred vocal delivery only adds to the charm of the song, too. But then the band changes gears and goes into a heavily funkified workout ('It Ain't Nothin' To Me') which is just a total success. The call-and-response verse structure is a touch of genius ('we got a man on the moon... IT AIN'T NOTHIN' TO ME! we got more comin' soon... IT AIN'T NOTHIN' TO ME!'), and even if it's one o' dem songs when the verses mean much more than the chorus, the song's key changes are still masterful and the funky rhythms are just fine for a band that's not Funkadelic.

You can't predict ol' man Tom on the third song, either, as it's 'Don't Come Around Here No More', more famous, of course, for its cannibalistic musical video (with the world's best impersonation of the Mad Hatter - say what you will, Tom was born for that job) than for the music itself, but don't forget about the music - is there another 1985 song where you could hear a sitar? And not just a sitar, but a sitar cleverly wiggled into a mind-blowing 'post-psychedelic' composition, replete with ethereal synth passages, chuckling drum machines and droning, hypnotic vocal harmonies? More like Brian Eno than Tom Petty, except for the last minute when the band unexpectedly boists up the tempo and transforms the song from a drone into a raging wah-wah driven rocker.

Of course, the first side has to end with the provocative title track extolling Tom's Southern accent virtues - keep in mind, though, that it's far from the worst ballad he's ever written, and if not for the hicky lyrics, would have positioned no problem. Besides, how can it pose a problem when, mm, the second song on the second side is 'Spike' - a tongue-in-cheek tale of rednecks harrassing a punk boy? 'Boy, we gotta man with a dog collar on, you think we oughta throw ol' Spike a bone?' I don't understand how people just pass it by: the fact that there's a thing like 'Southern Accents' on the first side and then there's 'Spike' on the second side is nothin' short of a masterstroke. Here you have the "myth" on the first side, and the "debunking" of the myth on the second one. Or, if you wish, the "pro" side first and then the "contra" side. Both sides of the story. So rarely met in pop culture in general. And oh, the song? I like it a lot.

In general, though, the second side is not really as memorable - stuff like 'Make It Better' and 'Dogs On The Run' are decent inoffensive rockers in typical "Petty filler" style. But it does end with the sentimental, gently moving 'The Best Of Everything', which is as pretty a ballad as 'Rebels' is a convincing rocker, and doesn't really have a single "anti-climactic" point to reduce the terrific impact of the first side. In any case, whether you like Southern Accents or not, this is definitely the least trivial and the most unique offering Petty's ever made to us, and you couldn't deny it on your mother's grave, mister.

Oh yeah, and it was produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Why? So you wouldn't get a fuckin' clue, you dumbass!



Year Of Release: 1987
Overall rating =

You know, Petty's ideas on "The Eighties Album" are just as weird as his ideas on "The Seventies Album" are normal.


Track listing: 1) Jammin' Me; 2) Runaway Trains; 3) The Damage You've Done; 4) It'll All Work Out; 5) My Life/Your World; 6) Think About Me; 7) All Mixed Up; 8) A Self-Made Man; 9) Ain't Love Strange; 10) How Many More Days; 11) Let Me Up (I've Had Enough).

And here comes technology. Why refuse? You don't have to live like a refugee, you know. If man has invented The Drum Machine, it couldn't have been for nothing. Who said it can't be used on a Tom Petty record? Tom Petty is not one who can be bound by rules. He was born a rebel.

Okay, frankly speaking, I think drum machines are there only on 'Runaway Trains'. Maybe in a couple other spots. But Let Me Up definitely sounds "advanced" in technology terms, and even though Petty had successfully missed the Worst Year In Pop Music History, 1987 wasn't far behind, you know, and he had every chance there was to make the crappiest record of his career. Yet somehow the Star of the Southern Cross smiled upon the Heartbreakers, and the chance was blown. Not only isn't Let Me Up a bad album, but it is, in fact, a fairly decent one, and two of the songs at least rank up there with the absolute best that, I'm pretty sure, history will eventually demand from Tom to place into its archives.

One is the Petty-Dylan-Campbell collaboration on 'Jammin' Me', a classic hit in classic Petty tradition, although the guitar rhythms on that one are Stonesy rather than Byrdsy - no jingle-jangle, just fat, powerful riffage. I have not been informed whether Vanessa Redgrave and Eddie Murphy have ever shaken hands with Tom since 1987, but I do know for sure that it's easily Petty's most bileful verbal assault captured on record, ever. It's not even easy to understand the things he's protesting against - everything from the above-mentioned celebrities to pension and insurance plans falls under fire, well, pretty much everything shown on T.V. around 1987, I guess - but whatever he's protesting against, I'm there. The basic message is that they're jamming him, and things haven't changed much since. Are you being jammed? I know I am being jammed. And when you're being jammed, there's nothing so exciting as playing some air guitar to 'Jammin' Me', the world's greatest anti-jammin' anthem.

[Funny tidbit, by the way: roaming through the "reviews" of the album (yeah yeah, isn't it fun to know what the people think?), I stumbled upon one which said something along the lines of "that 'Jammin' Me' song gets more and more dated with each day - does anybody even remember the Vanessa Redgrave controversy these days?" Then, just a few lines below, another guy was saying "and that 'Jammin' Me' song, it's as actual today as it used to be, I'm just inserting new names in there, like 'take away your J-Lo', for instance". Now here's a cute twist on the old optimist vs. pessimist anecdotes, don't you think? You can, of course, guess where my own sympathies lie.]

However, it would be too obvious to declare 'Jammin' Me' the lonesome highlight of the album. If you only know 'Jammin' Me', then you have to know and you have to know now that the rest of the album sounds very little like it. And the song that sounds the least like it is... well, it's 'Runaway Trains', but the one that sounds the second least like it is my absolute fav. On 'My Life / Your World' Tom goes into J. J. Cale / Mark Knopfler mode - you know, that sparse, spooky sound, minimum notes, minimum "performance", maximum inner feeling. It's the kind of tune that you really don't associate with Petty and his normally rambunctious ways, and that is maybe why it's so frequently overlooked, but my eyes perceive it as a stonewall masterpiece.

Again, there's no obvious message; it may be about generation gaps, society gaps, attitude gaps, or just gaps and differencies between people in general. The important thing is that it's performed as The Old Man's Music, but makes no fuss about it; is sad and bitter, but never aggressive; minimalistic, but deeply thought-provoking. I love it how the simple arithmetics of the chorus ('that's all right - it's my world - this is my life - she's my girl - my life, your world') contrasts with the occasionally puzzling verses. I love the steady, stern, emotionless drive of the song - even the dated Eighties' keyboards sound right at home here. I love the echoey scattered guitar notes, some of which seem like they were lifted straight from certain Gilmour parts on The Wall - a very appropriate analogy, because this song, too, is about alienation and 'quiet desperation'. Not everybody can get a song as frighteningly glacial as this one and as fiery as 'Jammin' Me' on one side of one album and get away with it. Maybe that's why the song is frequently overlooked; just like the few odd bits of sonic experimentation before it, 'My Life / Your World' is simply not the kind of music that a regular Tom Petty admirer would love to hear from the guy. But you gotta take it on its terms, and besides, it's catchy - if it helps.

As for 'Runaway Trains', I have no idea why this perfectly normal rock song had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous late-Eighties arrangement. Isn't Tom Petty the radical conservative one, refusing to sacrifice taste for commercialism blah blah blah? What's all this hi-tech doing on here? Even the guitars, normally the band's saving grace, take on this ugly quasi-metallic look (remember, the three main ingredients of Eighties' pop recipes: drum machines as prescribed by Phil Collins, robotic synths as prescribed by Depeche Mode, metallic guitar as prescribed by GTR, and there you go. 'Runaway Trains' follows all three). What a pity, because the actual song is quite inspiring once you manage to take a plunge into the muck and get to the bottom.

Still, at the end of the day I guess we should call it a 'failed experiment' rather than a 'sellout', because not a single other song on here pursues the same route. Okay, so there are synths and there is some electronic wizardry on the drums and overall you can tell most of these tunes are firmly planted in the mid-Eighties, but it's not the first time Petty has toyed with technology, and it's not the first time he's done so merely out of curiosity rather than with any Luciferic plans in mind. 'It'll All Work Out', for instance, is a quiet Celtic-influenced (sic!) ballad that practically requires a bagpipe solo; instead of bagpipes, you get brass-imitating synths, but it's not malicious usage, I assure you. It actually works out alright. It's also unusual for Tom, and, to tell the truth, it's rather generic in melody terms, but that's not the point: the point is we get to see Tom Petty in Irish-Scottish mood, and for once at least, it's quite a pleasant experience.

There are no bad songs on here, actually, none at all, although, strange enough, the distance between "higher" and "lower" points seems to have become longer than it used to be. In between all the tense, important, message tunes Petty finds enough space to cram it with listenable, but decidedly third-hand stuff. I'd have thought he was above rocking material as unimaginative as 'Think About Me' by this point, but no, he isn't. The only goal that song might pursue is prove to the world that Petty hasn't yet forgotten how to rock-a-billy. Same goes for 'A Self-Made Man', a song that, I think, may well have been written under the influence of Petty's extensive touring with Dylan in the previous year. He even sounds a bit like Bob on that one - and considering that Bob was by no means in top form around 1986-87, this influence couldn't have shown up at a worse moment. Still the song ain't ugly - just forgettable.

Plus, I'm no big fan of the title track. I understand that if you initiate the album with 'Jammin' Me', you gotta give it a rabble-rousing coda as well, but 'Let Me Up' is a pretty clumsy way of rousing the rabble, if you ask me. For instance, Petty's no screamer. He can't help it - his limited vocal range and general wimpiness just don't go along with high decibels. Maybe we all want to scream 'I've had enough!' from time to time, but we don't necessarily have to do it on record. Second, I liked the menacing Stonesy approach of the guitar on 'Jammin' Me' much better than the twistin'-the-night-away pub boogie approach on this song. Third, enough with the 'first verse anti-establishment, second verse personal relations problem' trick already. You're getting mighty predictable with the lyrics out there.

But then all these complaints belong in the "This is why I don't think this qualifies for first prize" category. And I like the steady mid-tempo keyboard pop of 'All Mixed Up' and the nervous exuberance of 'How Many More Days' and... uh, whatever. Sure I've been listening to this for quite some time, and I almost hated it at first, but then there can really be no reason for hating a Tom Petty album, even if he uses drum machines on it.


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