968 - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 'Hard Promises' (1981)

My Rating: 2.30 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 32/5

Favourite Tracks: A Woman In Love (It's Not Me), The Criminal Kind, You Can Still Change Your Mind
Least-Favourite Track: Letting You Go, A Thing About You, Insider

I found it really hard to have any strong opinions about this album but perhaps that explains a lot. It's not awful but neither is it awe-inspiring, it's not pretentious but neither is it inventive - it's just a no-nonsense, straightforward rock & roll album. And having read Tom Petty's withering views about the music business, I reckon that's exactly what he was aiming to create.

From the opening twelve-string chords of The Waiting it's clear that Petty's not afraid of showing his influences on this record - the Byrds, Springsteen & Dylan all immediately come to mind but I don't have a problem with that, after all there is only so much you can do with 3 chords & a guitar, bass & drums. And as A Woman In Love (It's Not Me) demonstrates, Petty knows exactly how to turn a handful of simple chords into a solid rock song; the reflective lyrics of the verse get the soft wistful musical backing & the anger of the chorus prompts the big drums & monster guitar riff treatment - it's not groundbreaking stuff but it works.

Production-wise it's very well recorded but if anything I feel it's a little under-produced - there's not much in the way of studio trickery or fancy arrangements which gives it the impression that the band just turned up & played the thing live in the studio. Although that adds to the no-nonsense rootsy feel of the album, I also found it a little limiting; the band don't stray too far from their formula anyway so a few more overdubs & production surprises would have stopped it sounding too samey.

Lyrically I thought it worked pretty well & the words are enhanced further by Petty's Southern twang. Take the conversational narrative of Something Big (Speedball rang the night clerk / Said, "Send me up a drink" / Now the night clerk said, "It's Sunday man... wait a minute let me think / There's a little place outside of town that might still have some wine" / Speedball said, "Forget it, can I have an outside line") - it might not look like much when you read it but when delivered in Petty's distinctive nasal drawl it somehow comes alive.

The album makes a welcome change of direction at the end with the ballad You Can Still Change Your Mind - a contemplative song with a melodic Brian Wilson / Todd Rundgren thing going on ('Everybody wants all the world can give 'em / Everybody wants to get all they can get / Everybody's waiting on somethin' that hasn't come yet'). I liked it a lot & the long fade as it meandered along uncertainly made it the perfect track to close out the album. An honest uncontrived record with a few good songs, a couple of great ones & handful of fillers.


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