>Album Review: "Damn the Torpedoes" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

>As of today, there has not been a new edition of “Tom Petty Comics” in two weeks straight. Good Lord.

People, I have to say that I am truly sorry for all this. Sure, I am not Stephen Winchell, creator and illustrator of said Tom Petty Comixxx, but I personally would like to apologize to all of you for putting faith in this man. I mean, sure, the Stigmata comic was pretty damned funny, and ending on that one would be a pretty cool way of bowing out of the comics business forever, but jeez. People wanna read this damn comic, Winchell! This blog is useless without it!!

Either way, he’s busy. But he still loves Tom Petty (who doesn’t), so I’m sure there is a Tom Petty Comixsx #5 in the works. One that I’m sure will answer the age-old question: “Who the fuck is Jeff Lynne?”

(Kidding. Of course I know Jeff Lynne. He’s that Xanadu guy.)

So taking Mr. Winchell’s negligence into consideration, I have decided to replace his usual hilarious comic with a not-as-hilarious-but-quite-informative review of an actual Tom Petty ALBUM. That’s right, that long-haired lothario’s not just a superhero concerned about testicular cancer. He’s also quite the musician! I’m sure you’d love to hear about him.

So let’s discuss Damn The Torpedoes, probably the best album ever recorded by a Tom Petty.

Lookit that face. He HAD to become a rock star.

Damn The Torpedoes is the ultimate feel-good rock album for those of us that dig kickin’ rock old school, with those Byrds and those Rolling Stones and alla them. That’s probably why the album was such a hit in the late 70’s – it eschewed all that punk, new wave, and progressive claptrap that cluttered the airwaves and scared away eager record buyers who just wanted to hear some fun, sweet, straight-ahead 4/4 guitar-bass-drum-keyboard rock tunes blasting through their stereo. Tom Petty and his Hoppin’ Heartbreakers (their full name) were pretty much the perfect solution to this problem; Petty’s voice was like Dylan mixed with Jagger, and the whole band sounded like the Stones on vacation. (OK, that made no sense, but you dig my trip bro – they were nicer than the Stones.) I guess you could lump them into the “mainstream roots-rock” category that Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger occupied back in the ‘ol days, but where those two were more romantic and dramatic, Mr. Tom was straight-up rockin’, never stopping for an overwrought sax solo (sorry Broos) or weepy piano ballad (sorry Bob). And hey, that appealed to a lot of people! For good reason!

I’m sure you know the hits here. You must. “Refugee”? “Here Comes My Girl”? “Don’t Do Me Like That”? All kick-nut. But this one’s also chock full of great album tracks – which is a good thing, ‘cuz with album with only 9 songs on it, it helps if more than 1/3 of the album is good! Otherwise it’s not a very good album at all, is it? “Even The Losers,” “Shadow Of A Doubt,” “Century City,” “Louisiana Rain” – hoo-ee, thems some great tracks. Admittedly, some of the album tracks sound just a smidge too similar – once in a blue moon I’ll still forget which melody is which between “Even the Losers” and “Shadow of a Doubt” – but man, when that samey sound is so good, you really can’t complain. Tom Petty’s one of these rare artists, like AC/DC or the Ramones, that only benefits from sounding pretty much exactly the same from one album to the next. Why mess with perfection?

Lyrically, there’s not much to write home about on Damn The Torpedoes – Mr. Petty’s never been known for his lyrical prowess, nor does he need to be – but there’s hardly anything embarrassing here. I guess you could lump in Tom with BROOS in the lyrical department, since a lot of the time he seems to cover similar subject matter: dead-end towns, heartbroken dreamers, soulless 9-to-5 jobs, etc. etc. It’s nothing new, but when it works, it really works; specifically, “Here Comes My Girl,” a piece of rock romanticism worthy of Springsteen, features a lovestruck Mr. Tom speak-singin’ about the rough life he leads in a crappy town he hates. His redemption? A LADY. Sounds a little overwrought on paper, but in the context of the song it’s genuinely exciting – hearing Tom shift his voice from a downtrodden street crawler in the verses to a rock ‘n roll yelper in the chorus is enough to sweep any listener off their feet.

I have one genuine problem with Damn The Torpedoes: whenever I listen through it, I usually drop off after “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Why is this? Well, the songs get a little slower, a little groovier, and a little less exciting. I can’t really blame this on a dip in musical quality; it’s just that after the pure rockin’ sweetness of “Refugee” through “Century City,” plus the pop confection of “Don’t Do Me Like That,” hearing the slow “You Tell Me” doesn’t quite fit with me. Whenever I crave a quick, perfect blast of Petty, I’ll put the first side on, but not the second. So while I would say the first side of the album is stronger than the second – mostly ‘cuz of “What Are You Doing In My Life?”, which is kinda fun but inconsequential – the second side has “Louisiana Rain,” a really wonderful ballad that closes the album.

So basically I’m complaining about nothing.

Tom Petty’s 58 now. That’s right – 58. He will never capture the wild youth preserved forever on the classic Damn The Torpedoes LP, no matter how many times he plays the Super Bowl (once, and counting). I mean, this IS the album that saved his career, allowing him to continue making wonderful music until he finally met his destiny as one of Jeff Lynne’s Terrific Travelin’ Wilburys. If you’re not grasping the gravity of the situation, think about this: if Tom Petty had never made Damn The Torpedoes, he would have never been a megastar, never would have hobnobbed with “Got My Mind Set On You”-crooner George Harrison, never would have joined the Wilburys, and – I hate to say it – the classic reggae-tinged Petty classic “Last Nite” would never exist.

Ponder that shit. In your dreams. Or your nightmares.

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