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About music: Petty fights back
By James Kinsella
Plattsburgh Press-Republican — Friday, January 11, 1980
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: Damn the Torpedoes. MCA-5105.
PLATTSBURGH — Tom Petty is backed by a group called the Heartbreakers, and heartbreak is the driving force behind Petty’s new album, Damn the Torpedoes. But rather than lie down and moan and groan, Petty fights back with exhilirating rock that’s both serious and fun.
Petty works in a mode that has many pretenders but few artists — slashing power-chord rock with high harmonies, boy-girl lyrics and a full-steam 4/4 beat. If there’s such a thing as “pure rock,” melted down to where the music’s roots are unrecognizable and “rock and roll” remains present more in spirit than in musical construction, this is it.
The Who probably pioneered “pure rock,” but even that band stands partly outside the definition, as leader Pete Townshend was more concerned with the workings of the mind in a hostile world than the particular frustration of your girlfriend giving you a hard time.
The Byrds, on the other hand, had the harmonies, but that group built cathedrals of sound rather than surging, hopped-up-car rock. What Petty does on this album, in its finest moments, is to bring it all together, to create the rock we’ve heard only in our dreams.
Damn the Torpedoes is a very good album, but not a great one. There are uneven stretches, lesser songs and even lesser parts of songs that hold the album back. “Here Comes My Girl,” echoing Them’s “Here Comes the Night,” uses a spoken verse that’s plodding and almost ugly before moving into a gorgeous, Byrd-like chorus that brings the romance back in. The bridge in “Don’t Do Me Like That” is jarring at first, especially when coming off the bright, bouncy verses that could make the song an FM hit.
Still, even there the lyrics shore up a possible wreck, and when Petty turns it on full blast, there’s no denying his power. “Even the Losers” is a killer, a rock song that fulfills the yearnings of all the kids who have “smoked cigarettes and stared at the moon,” wanting the girl/guy beside them and the excitement this music can bring. “Even the losers get lucky sometimes,” Petty reminds the listener before the band flies into some exuberant rocking.
Other outstanding songs include the half-hurting, half-strong stance of “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid),” an anthem for every person who’s tried to grasp another with only mixed success. The rocking never brakes, though, and opens up another notch on “Century City.”
Cheap Trick plays tongue-in-cheek, the Cars pay more attention to melody than drive, but Petty and the Heartbreakers are easily the choice to cap off any concert bill of the new American rock. Petty lays and sings like he means it, and his band has the clean locomotive drive that’s marked some of the best of this music. Damn the Torpedoes is strongly recommended.