Exploring — September 1987

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By Bob Darden
Exploring — September 1987

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS | “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” | MCA Records 5836
“Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” is the latest release from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Petty & Co. comprise one of the most underrated musical aggregations in American popular music. Their albums “Southern Accents” and “Damn the Torpedoes” (from 1979) are genuine rock-era classics. The Heartbreakers have also produced a fistful of hit singles, including “The Waiting,” “Refugee,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

Too many people don’t take Petty and the Heartbreakers seriously because 1. they’re from the South and 2. they take chances. You can’t do much about where you’re born, and I don’t think the band is too concerned with No. 2.

Like U2, the band’s basic sound remains the same: Petty’s nasal, Southern drawl of a voice and Mike Campbell’s chiming 12-string guitar. It’s the approach that varies from song to song.

The guys know their roots. Where they once sounded vaguely like the Byrds, you’ll now hear overtones of the Stones (“Jammin’ Me” and “Ain’t Love Strange”), and even Hank Williams Jr. (“A Self-Made Man” and “The Damage You’ve Done”). Just overtones, mind you, the core music is definitely “Heartbreakin’.”

Side I of “Let Me Up” is as good as anything I’ve heard so far this year. “Runaway Trains” has an impressionistic Southern sensibility and a sad synthesizer line that’ll break your heart. “The Damage You’ve Done” is a laconic country rock tune. “It’ll All Work Out” is a mandolin/banjo waltz, permeated with Cajun fatalism. And “My Life/Your World” is sinuous urban blues, but with a host of other musical colorings.

Over the past couple of years the Heartbreakers have been giving Bob Dylan the best backing he’s had since his legendary tours with the Band. So for “Let Me Up,” Bobby D. has returned the favor by cowriting the raucous, name-dropping “Jammin’ Me,” also from Side I.

On Side II, “Ain’t Love Strange” is a joyful celebration of the heartland. And you’ve got to like the song “Think About Me” for no other reason than it makes you want to dance and smile. Only the schizophrenic “A Self-Made Man” is a total wash-out.

When this album was being recorded, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were interested in granite-hard country rock songs that championed the underdog in the name of love. By the time next year’s model is released, they may have left this territory completely, looking for more fertile musical ground elsewhere.

That’s why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will probably be No 1 — and that’s one of the reasons why I like them.

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