Sunday, December 13, 2009
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
DAMN THE TORPEDOES
In "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", Joseph Campbell described apotheosis as the expansion of consciousness that the hero experiences after defeating his foe.
Aptly named, the Heartbreakers' third album was forged under a cloud of trying circumstances, though Petty's tenacity saw him emerge victorious from a legal battle to free himself from a lopsided deal. He recovered ownership of his publishing, secured a decent royalty rate and gained complete artistic control over all future projects. On record, his reputation as a solid song writer was established, with several singles from the album scoring as massive hits.
Slightly altering Campbell's take on things, it's fair to say that the band's profile underwent an expansion into mass consciousness and they officially became rock stars. Thirty years on from official release, "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Even the Losers" and "Here Comes My Girl" retain a deserved presence on classic rock playlists.
Damn the Torpedoes could be viewed as Petty's mantra in light of the many battles he has waged to keep the insidious aspects of the record business at bay, while remaining dedicated to honing his craft.
Poised to crack the commercial coconut after releasing two respectable discs, they teamed with producer Jimmy Iovine who helped to clearly define the sonic personalities of the five musicians. Listen for the payoff in the form of a startling exercise in dynamics called "Refugee"
Playing up the strengths of each member, Stan Lynch's drums are way up front in the mix, with a gradual build of ominous sounding guitars grinding out Mike Campbell's now famous F#m, A, E progression. Benmont Tench's swirling Hammond fills are the cherry on top of a very satisfying sundae. Everything is bridled during the verses, allowing for the dramatic punch of everyone hitting the chorus hard and loud.
Quintessential early Heartbreakers.
Deploying several important weapons in their arsenal, not the least of which is the pure skill and precision that Campbell brings to everything that he touches, the first side continues to impress with "Here Comes My Girl". The spoken verses are a masterstroke, building tension that almost threatens to snap before Petty brings the sugar (but not too much) of the chorus. This is the second and last tune co-written with Campbell on the disc, though I really think that he should have been involved in a few more selections as his input was always beneficial to the final product. This is not to say that the rest is disposable.
Far from it.
Petty proudly flies the flag of rock and roll throughout a killer album side. Though there is a fair amount of polish in production, the execution is equally flawless, as the musicianship was nothing short of superb. Designed to leap from the speaker grills, grab you by the ear and make you take notice, this is one big "fuck off" of an album. Doubtlessly, he had drafted and re-written this many times to match the concert that blasted away inside his head.
Could there be a more sympathetic and skilled group of team players than these guys?
Mike Campbell is the most underrated guitarist on the planet. Benmont Tench is a virtual encyclopedia when it comes to music history and a virtuoso in his own right. No less.
Those who dismiss Tom Petty and his cohorts are also writing off several genres of fantastic music in doing so. His songs are not facile, it is just that he works very hard to make it look easy. Don't be fooled, as thousands of hours went into producing his stellar discography. Arguably, his output has only grown stronger with the passage of time.
Dylanesque inflection,(with the twist being that he's blessed with greater range as a vocalist) ringing, 12 string Byrdsian jangle, airtight harmonies and concise arrangements all contribute to something that is ultimately quite timeless. Petty wore his influences on his sleeve (and still does), though his brilliance lies in the fact that he has been able to synthesize the best elements of what came before with his own slant.
This is a very good record.
All nine tracks hit the mark and for those that were concerned about the health of the industry in the late 70s, Petty was seen as a savior of sorts. In performance, they delivered as well or better than they did in the studio because they gave a shit about quality. The impact of Damn the Torpedoes was huge, though it was kept from hitting number one by Roger Waters Oedipal opus, The Wall. My first encounter with this marvelous platter came by flipping through the record collection of my buddy's older sister. It wasn't until Long After Dark in '82 when I really caught up with him, but he has done very little to change my mind about his talent and commitment to excellence after all these years.
"Louisiana Rain" closes out the set on a somewhat down tempo note. One of his finest early songs, it dates from the ill-fated, but productive sessions that were undertaken as his previous band, Mudcrutch was breathing its last. This wistful, country tinged confection hinted at the change in direction that would lead him on to very interesting paths and collaborations as the eighties unfolded. Damn the Torpedoes created lifelong fans out of listeners and his peers.