Books & Music: Keeping 'Hard Promises'
By Pete Bishop
Pittsburgh Press - Sunday, May 31, 1981
Petty And Heartbreakers Are Winners Again
When your previous album was a surprise smash, you've created hard promises to keep to listeners in general and to your fans in particular.
That's exactly the case with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whose "Damn the Torpedoes" shared Top 5 honors for three months early last year with such better-known acts as the Bee Gees and Eagles, Donna Summer, Kenny Rogers, Michael Jackson, Rush, Linda Ronstadt, Heart, Bob Seger and Billy Joel. Their album was kept from the No. 1 spot by another surprise, Pink Floyd's "The Wall."
So appropiately enough, here's "Hard Promises" (Backstreet BSR-5160), a very worthy successor to "Damn the Torpedoes."
The Heartbreakers continue to improve as a unit, offering solid support, no flashy, indulgent solos. Super rock producer Jimmy Iovine has refined most of the rawness out of everything but Petty's Dylanesque, mushy, not overly intelligible voice (at least the lyrics are printed on the sleeve) and out of the lyrics themselves.
This is not a happy album. It's packed with unfulfilled longing, with the pain of dead romance -- from the swain willing to be his woman's "bleedin' heart" and "cryin' fool" to the guy who gave his gal "everything; she threw it all away" to the night watchman whose "life's worth more than the minimym wage." Sounds as if Petty, who wrote or co-wrote all 10 songs, knows about heartbreakers first-hand.
"Hard Promises" won't break the heart of anyone who buys it, however.
It's filled with winners: melodic-rockers "The Waiting," "Letting You Go" and "Kings Road," hot rock 'n' roller "A Thing About You," the slow, tough "The Criminal Kind" and "Insider," a near-ballad with a fine vocal duet by Petty and Stevie Nicks.
In short, "Hard Promises" continues what "Damn the Torpedoes" started, establishing Petty and the Heartbreakers as one of America's brightest young bands.