Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No. 313: Damn the Torpedoes

Band: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Album: Damn the Torpedoes
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Petty's third album is his first consistent effort. While his previous two had iconic songs ("American Girl" on his debut and "Listen To Her Heart" on the second album), "Damn The Torpedoes" is, start to finish, a fine album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know, this sounds OK. "Full Moon Fever" is probably Petty's best, though.
Best song: "Refugee?" Great. "Here Comes My Girl?" Also great.
Worst song: "What Are You Doin' in My Life?" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It is.

Here's a thought I probably should put in "My biases" or create a separate post about, but I'm just too lazy:

Music fandom and love for any particular band is so nebulous that I have contradicted myself a lot on this project and will continue to contradict myself. I don't mean in the "I love this band/I hate this band" way; I try to stay consistent on that front.

But, often, I'll criticize a band for not being experimental enough, then criticize another for being too experimental. Often, I'll do it in subtle ways when I call one band "derivative" and say another is "showing its influences." Those are mostly the same thing, I guess. I know this is hedging; I am probably just giving your readers another reason to not give a shit as to what I'm doing here. So, sorry.

But, sometimes, a record is just great, despite the fact that I should hate it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are a band like that. I should absolutely hate them. Petty's music is, for the most part, the derivative sort that toes the line between populist blue collar rock and mainstream, boring nonsense. I should resent Petty for this. I should hate it.

I don't. I adore it. I adore Petty's Dylan-by-way-of-Florida drawl. I love his McGuinn-wannabe guitar sound. I love his mid-tempo middlebrow rock and roll. Love it love it love it.


Is "Damn The Torpedoes" the best Petty? Hardly. "Full Moon Fever" (also on this list) is his best-selling and is chock full of hits. "Wildflowers" has Petty as his most introspective and the "She's The One" soundtrack is Petty at the top of his game.

But, DTP is the closest Petty comes to being a fervent, who-gives-a-damn punk rocker. The cover, with Petty's devil may care stare as he hold his Rickenbacker 330 with one hand. The title itself is a fuck you to the industry. But, it was also the band's breakthrough and contains a few of the band's most popular concert standards and, arguably, Petty's best song.


Let's talk a little about "Refugee." It mirrors Petty, in my mind. At its heart, it isn't really anything much, simply a nice rock anthem with a cool keyboard line. But, having heard it live, the record takes on a totally new meaning. Petty's slight hesitation and the band's harmony vocals on the chorus become otherworldy when one is sitting fifth row at United Center (admittedly, I was, like, 12 and knew nothing about music, but I loved that goddamned show [Thanks, Pop]) with 15,000 of your best friends. You don't care that the place's acoustics were built for hockey and basketball. You don't care about anything except this:

To live like a refugee!

The guitar riff, the keyboard's backup of the riff and the tiny little drum roll... They all just exist to make that vocal better. Like the best albums and songs, I can hardly explain how much I love that song. It is... It is... It's just great.

1 comment:

Garry Shuck said...

Hey, I'll join you on that "I should hate Tom Petty but I don't" bandwagon--it's not indie, it's not alternative, it's not modern, it's (sorry) only rock-n-roll--but I like it (I told you, sorry!)

I didn't see Tom Petty from row 5 (!) during my formative years, and he's never on my personal list of favorites, but I've got several of his albums, and whenever he comes on the radio, I invariably turn it up.