Records: Tom Petty, rock's elite
By Mike Daly
The Age - Thursday, June 25, 1987
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are among the rock elite -- a band with an impressive record over a decade and whose individual members are in demand on other people's albums, as players and/or songwriters.
Bob Dylan made a shrewd choice when he teamed with the Petty quintet for last year's hugely successful "True Confessions" world tour. The group provided Dylan with the best musical backing he has had since his days with The Band, content with its supporting role in return for showcasing the Heartbreakers' own material in front of a massive audience.
The best was to come, however, with Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (MCA 5836-1), a full-blooded studio set culled from more than a score of songs Petty and Co squeezed in between tour legs. Unlike 1985's complex Southern Accents album, the new record is straight-ahead rock -- no frills, just superb playing from a distinctive musical team with a classic sound. There are no guest start; it is all the band's work, including production.
Petty's nasal, high vocal, with its rough, spoken quality, has always shown a strong Dylan influence and his lyrics, although less ambitious, carry their own sting. Comparisons with the early Rolling Stones also are inevitable, especially on the snarling opener, Jammin' Me, where there is a definite feeling of deja-vu, and the more restrained The Damage You've Done, with solid, riffing guitars from Mike Campbell and Petty, Ben Tench's crashing piano and bluesy organ, plus the powerhouse rhythm of Stan Lynch (drums) and Howie Epstein (bass).
Yet this is a very American band, attuned to guitar-rich country-rock as well as the restless urban beat -- Jammin' Me is almost like a revved-up talking blues.
On Runaway Trains the opening electronic keyboard and drums sound like a lead-in to Miami Vice but Petty quickly slips into an urgent, large-scale rock ballad with glowing Campbell guitar lines. Mandolins imitate a Japanese koto on the tender It'll All Work Out, souvenirs perhaps of the Dylan-Petty concerts in Tokyo, although Campbell's brief foray on acoustic slide at the end is pure Mississippi Delta.
The throbbing My Life/Your World, with its smoky, understated vocals and ripe guitar is like vintage JJ Cale, with ironic lyrics from the Heartbreakers' viewpoint ("My momma was a rocker way back in '53/ Buys them old records they sell on TV/ I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me").
The boisterious, strutting Think About Me carries a heavy dose of '50s nostalgia, boasting a Chuck Berry-style guitar break and a brief touch of Everly Brothers vocal harmonies, and the relaxed atmosphere of the studio sessions is revealed in a joking, between-tracks out-take before the menacing, brassy All Mixed Up.
Even the country pastiche on Self-Made Man contains some snappy guitar play, while Ain't Love Strange is melodic, down-home philosophising.
My favorite tracks are the final two. On the plaintive How Many More Days, a thudding beat is reinforced by Tench's gospel piano while Campbell's swirling, fuzzy guitar climbs all over the melody. The title track, with its angry, chanted cry of rebellion and infectious, shuffling rhythm, closes triumphantly in a blast of classic rock.