Petty keeps his promises
By Kelly Mayfield
The Daily Titan — Wednesday, May 13, 1981
Hard Promises | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Those who discovered Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with “Damn the Torpedoes” shouldn’t expect a replay on “Hard Promises.”
Although Petty has once again surrounded his unabashed romanticism with that jangly 12-string guitar, this record leans more towards the raw, moodiness of his first two albums.
The Heartbreakers’ sound can best be described as complete. Neither holes nor excessive instrumentation mar “Hard Promises.”
Benmont Tench’s keyboards, which played such a prominent role on “Torpedoes,” once again provide a vibrant, swirling backdrop for the guitars of Petty and Mike Campbell. The two balance each other perfectly as Petty’s rhythm guitar punctuates Campbell’s leads with precision.
The reliable rhythm section of Stan Lynch and Ron Blair anchor Petty’s songs with authority.
And what songs! Petty can tug on your heartstrings without becoming maudlin — no small feat. His tales of those bittersweet pangs of love ring as true as those Rickenbacker guitars.
Under his pen, betrayal and unrequited love become poetry. Petty is not looking for pity, he is just telling the facts of life.
It seems Petty’s legal hassles have left bitter ink in his pen though, with lines like, “I been burned by the fire … I’ve crawled through the briars,” and songs like “Criminal Kind.”
A nice surprise is a duet with Stevie Nicks on “Insider,” which, however implausible it might sound, works well.
Petty’s voice has always been a strong point in his effectiveness. Leering through “Nightwatchman,” then gentle on “You Can Still Change Your Mind,” Petty stretches his vocal capacity further than he ever has. The anguish in the line, “I don’t understand the world today, I don’t understand what she needed,” can be heard and felt.
Petty’s “hard promises” have been more than fulfilled. With four albums of nothing but outstanding material, it seems he just doesn’t know how to write a bad song.
He’s overcome both the sophomore jinx and the platinum jinx, not to mention battles with the courts and his record company, and emerged the stronger for it.
He’s also proven he can be a success without sacrificing his integrity, which is as hard a promise as he’ll ever have to make, or keep.