Petty-Heartbreakers ‘Let Me Up’: Full Speed Ahead
By Robert Hilburn
The Los Angeles Times — April 19, 1987
★★★ ½ | “LET ME UP (I’VE HAD ENOUGH).” | Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. | MCA.
This is a crucial album for Petty and the Heartbreakers because it will be studied closely for answers to questions raised by the group’s schizophrenic “Southern Accents” LP.
In that 1985 release, Petty appeared to be torn between his deepest artistic impulses (engrossing reflections on the Southern heritage) and the commercial decision that he needed to break away from what had become too predictable a sound.
The result was some of his most absorbing writing and singing (in the title tune and “The Best of Everything”) mixed with insignificant dabbling in search of new instrumental textures. Even long-time supporters wondered whether Petty and the band could resolve the conflict.
“Let Me Up” is a gloriously positive response–the group’s liveliest and most assured work since “Damn the Torpedoes” eight years ago. In songs such as the melancholy “Runaway Trains” and the tender, consoling “It’ll All Work Out,” Petty writes with a richness and detail that reaffirm his place among rock’s most prized songwriters.
Equally important, the Heartbreakers–perhaps rejuvenated by extensive touring last year with the unpredictable Bob Dylan–bring such energy and spunk to the songs that much of the LP has the fresh, exhilarating feel of a great new band’s debut work.
Who else but a beginning young band would have the nerve to salute so openly their own influences–as the Heartbreakers do with a lean, blistering attack that recalls the Rolling Stones at their “Exile on Main Street” best, and with the surreal feel of prime Dylan (as filtered through Dire Straits) of “My Life/Your World.”
This is a band that is having fun, and that spirit is infectious. But the group also knows when it’s time to get down to business, and the Heartbreakers apply themselves at times with an authority that could only come from a band that knows its way around the studio.
Guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench contribute the most color to the arrangements, but drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein also apply sly, unexpected twists that give the album a sense of musical freedom and expanse that’s mindful at times of Dylan’s old mates in The Band.
Like “Exile,” this album seems made with the stage in mind, establishing Petty’s upcoming summer tour as one of the most promising of the year. More than a return to form, this is an invigorating step forward.