Tuesday, August 5, 2014


When Tom Petty announced his new album with the Heartbreakers would hearken back to the group's glory days, the late 70's and the Damn The Torpedoes years, lots of ears perked up and lots of fingers were crossed.  Although his albums have always been strong, and his live shows very exciting, it's been awhile since there's been a hit for Petty, and his loyal fans would love to have something new to celebrate.  It's felt like he's coasting down the same path as R.E.M. went, gradually being more and more ignored.  Of course, lots of A-list bands from earlier decades have been going through that for years.

I know Damn The Torpedoes inside and out, and can assure you this isn't like it. That album was full of short, sharp songs that fit in with the New Wave times, such as Refugee and Don't Do Me Like That.  Petty has become a much more sophisticated writer since then, and such a comment sounds like a bit of spin Petty is happy to indulge.  No doubt he finds some similarity to the 1979 sound, but it isn't the overriding feel of Hypnotic Eye.  The old Petty in his 20's was blustery, with not much subtlety.  These songs have power but more dynamics.  There's certainly something to be said for a song that simply beats you over the head with brash rock and roll, like the best of Torpedoes, but we all know its folly to try to recapture that.  So let's let the 63-year old Petty have his say, instead of looking for another 29-year old's effort.

Springsteen has always spoken for the little guy kicked by the system, and Petty has subtly done the same as well, sometimes losers, and sometimes a little of himself gets in there, too.  Petty a little guy?  Well, if you look at the stuff live can throw at you, we all suffer in our own way.  As he sings in Fault Lines, "I've got a few of my own, fault lines, running under my life."  In opener American Dream Plan B, your classic citizen of the U.S.A. still has a dream he wants to fight to get, but doesn't seem to realize that's getting a lot harder to do in his country.  Several of the songs have that failed America theme, as seen through the individuals hurt, including Petty:  Forgotten Man, Sins Of My Youth, Burnt Out Town.

As for the music, they are just a better band, maybe the best rock band standing, still taking it completely seriously, coming up with new parts and licks, and secret weapon Mike Campbell still the best guitar player nobody ever remembers.  This is a guitar album too.  Most of the flourishes and fills are from Campbell, Benmont Tench more of a colourist on keys this time out.  Every song is drenched with splashes and slashes, different sounds and effects, spread over eleven cuts, none of which sound alike, or much like past Heartbreakers.   Maybe that's all Petty meant, that this is a guitar album, and a band album, like Torpedoes.  Works for me, very well.

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