Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tom Petty 3: Hard Promises

A funny thing happened to Tom Petty on the way to his fourth album. For one, his growing fame turned his band into reliable hired guns for Stevie Nicks, who was recording her first solo album. And since he’d been cultivating a faithful fan base, MCA wanted to put his next album out at a $9.98 list price. Not wanting to saddle those fans with the extra dollar, Petty held his ground and eventually won that game of chicken. (Apparently he threatened to change the album title from Hard Promises to $8.98, and you can just barely make out that price on a cardboard box on the album’s cover.)
“The Waiting” is another in a growing line of fantastic Petty album openers, rife with singalong interjections and a compact but perfect Mike Campbell solo. And he delivers another one-two punch with “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)”, an exercise in dynamics. (It also helped that the fledgling MTV network kept these songs in heavy rotation back when they didn’t have many other clips to show.) “Nightwatchman” throws a little funk into the mix, but it’s far surpassed by “Something Big”, a short story that hints at a much larger situation over a drop-D tuning. From there, “Kings Road” serves much the same purpose as “Century City” on the last album.
“Letting You Go” is a slight song not helped by a self-conscious video, but “A Thing About You” has such a joyous sound, as summed up by the note on the lyric sheet: “raise both arms and repeat chorus”. “Insider” was supposed to be the album’s centerpiece, being a duet with Stevie Nicks, except that her recording of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” confused consumers as to which album had which song. “The Criminal Kind” is another tough showcase for Mike Campbell’s slide under a Dylanesque vocal, and the album ends tentatively with “You Can Still Change Your Mind”, which is something of a tribute in itself to Brian Wilson’s “Caroline No”. A great way to finish.
With Hard Promises, Tom Petty started the ‘80s just as strong as he left the ‘70s, and his band looked like they were here to stay. But as shouldn’t be too surprising, the truth was not as perceived. For the time being, though, he could coast with another great album under his skinny belt.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Hard Promises (1981)—4

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