On the Records
By Robert Sledge
The Union Democrat — November 22, 1982
“LONG AFTER DARK,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. ★★★ 1/2
Tom Petty and his group have once again been able to turn out a favorable effort, proving them one of the most consistent groups in rock.
One of the reasons this album works is because of its magnificent cohesion as a whole. Often, a group will flip-flop between styles and instruments, the result being uneven. Also, some groups have trouble being consistently good on both rockers and ballads, but they try to put both on one album anyway.
Journey are the masters at mixing ballads and rockers with success, but Petty and the Heartbreakers are definitely not Journey, and they stay away from ballads for the most part, and have a consistent string of style.
The exception to this is “A Wasted Life.” It is the only ballad, and it has exceptional words: “I know you’re walking down a lonely street/I know you can’t get out of the heat/Baby it’s all right/Don’t have a wasted life.” The band gives a truly good backing, but Petty is simply awful at singing ballads, and it is his vocal and his vocal alone that messes it up.
Another big notable of this record is its forcefulness. Not many groups can create this kind of high quality strength. With most of the group, it is the rhythm section (bass and drums) that is left with the burden of putting over the beat and control throb. Here, the guitars and keyboards help out the rhythm section considerably. This is not to say they are tied down; they do it in a functional, substantial and flexible way. This is another reason the album is so forceful; it’s not just the bass and drums enforcing the beat. All the instruments are contributing.
This band is so great that all the members deserve comment.
Tom Petty hands lead vocals and guitars. Mike Campbell also does guitars. Petty and Campbell work beautifully together, both being hard and driving (and even the opposite, if the occasion calls for it).
Stan Lynch is probably one of the most solid drummers around. Combine him with Howie Epstein on bass and you’ve got a rhythm section that doesn’t need any help. Phil Jones (percussion) does add in a positive way, though. It is he who provides, among other things, the timely tambourine Petty often uses.
Benmont Trench is very good on keyboards. He is not overpowering, has a good song and does not impose in anyway on the arrangement. His best work is on “You Got Lucky,” where the meritous and atmospheric performance can also be attributed to the synthesizer program, created by Craig Harris.
And there’s yet another large attribute, the songwriting. It is strictly top-notch, the melodies being assertful, with outstanding chord progressions and chord structure. The songwriting paves the way for everything that’s on this record and is some of the best done of late. Handled by Petty and Campbell, it proves they are among the best in the business.
Indeed, Petty and crew have it all in gear here. From sneering and sarcastic lyrics accented by Petty’s biting vocal (“The Same Old You” and “Between Two Worlds”) to the fast and quick numbers (“A One-Story Town” and “Finding Out”). From the song most reminiscent of Petty’s previous work (“Deliver Me”) to the best song on the record (“We Stand a Chance”) which is excellent in every way (lyrics, vocals, guitar-keyboard collaboration, etc.).
And they top it off with a professionalism that comes from people who have never made a bad album and who show absolutely no signs of letting up.