Monday, August 17, 2009

Tom Petty 4: Long After Dark

Having established themselves as major players on the scene—both as a band and as hired session players—one would think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers could have rested easy. Unfortunately, they couldn’t. First, they had to find a new bass player to replace Ron Blair, who’d tired of the rock ‘n roll circus. Thus it was Howie Epstein whose face showed up in the big-budget (for the time) video for the first single from Long After Dark. (Ron is thanked with “love” for bass on track.)
“Dark” is something of an underlying theme for this album, on which every track is negative. From the beginning Petty laments being “lost in a one-story town [where] the same sh-t goes down”. “You Got Lucky” was that big-budget video, and listeners could be excused for thinking it was the Cars; these days it’s become something of a standard. “Deliver Me” suggests similar dissatisfied emotions in a catchy vein, but any remorse noted in “A Change Of Heart” is smoothed out by the simple joy of that “Sweet Jane” variation in the chords.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album treads water without much to help it. “Finding Out” loudly closes side one, and “We Stand A Chance” has such an obnoxious hook it defeats the purpose of the title. The exception is “Straight Into Darkness”, which rivals the best of the story songs he’d concocted thus far. Benmont had a lot to do with it too, and his keyboards also give a little life to “Between Two Worlds”, which starts well but goes on too long. In between there’s “The Same Old You”, with a snotty vocal over a basic riff, and “A Wasted Life” isn’t much of a comfort as the credits roll.
On the whole the album sounds harsh and edgy, almost cutting, and not very inviting. While Long After Dark was a hit and the band continued to be a concert draw, it was clear Petty wanted to try something different. And he would, but not without some more drama.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Long After Dark (1982)—2

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