'Hard Promises': Excellent Music Excellently Executed
By Joel McNally
The News & Courier - Saturday, August 1, 1981
One of the really exciting things that occasionally happens in rock 'n' roll is to see an artist suddenly transformed from one of those guys who puts out records into a star.
It is even better when the buy turns out to be good besides.
This is what happened about a year ago with Tom Petty. He went from your average rocker in the usual throes of bankruptcy and personal travail straight to the top with an album called "Damn the Torpedos."
His eagerly awaited second album as a star could be called "Half Speed Ahead" with no disrespect intended.
"Hard Promises" (Backstreet) is a moody, blues-rock album that doesn't try to blow anyone out of the water. It just delivers excellent music excellently executed.
There is a heavy layer of laid-back. But there are also several rock out tunes such as "Kings Road" and "A Thing About You" that show the skinny, blond kid can still play a mean pinball.
More often, though, Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, are creating fascinating musical shadows. It makes for a compelling album.
They have some nice help, too. "Insider," a ballad about a dark angel, has vocal harmony by a radiant one, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
Nicks also joins him on another nicely done ballad called "You Can Still Change Your Mind."
"Something Big" calls up a lot of seamy images from cheap hotel rooms. The offbeat story focuses on a character named Speedball who is obviously up to something big.
Other songs are more mellow folk-rock such as "Letting You Go," which doesn't get done without some wistful mourning.
Petty can be Dylanesque, McGuinny and a lot of other good things. But more and more, he is developing his own combination of rock and raw.
On "Kings Road," he says he is "a new world boy on the old Kings Road." That is a pretty good description of the modern rock sound he puts out incorporating some of the best tendencies of old rock.
If that weren't enough, there are all those stories that the reason this album took so long to get out was that Petty fought his record company, which wanted to release it at a higher price.
So you don't just have a talented performer who finally made it. You have one who when he finally did, didn't even try to hold us up. A rare artist indeed.