Tom Petty’s ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’ Turns 25
There’s a dark, evil creature shambling through the back catalogs of the greatest rock artists ever, and its name is “The Eighties.”
In 1987, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had just come off the road supporting Bob Dylan. They went into the studio and the beast of the Eighties made its move, resulting in ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),’ an album that turns 25 this month and sounds every year of its age.
There seems to be no limit to the impact the diabolical beast had on most of the era’s mainstream rock recordings. From all-time classics to obscure platters, there’s always a synth lurking around every corner, and a too-clean sheen sprayed over so much of the decade’s recorded output.
Behind the processed veil, however, ‘Let Me up’ stands as a record with an unselfconscious looseness and a well-earned status as an underrated gem in Petty’s catalog. Even with the Eighties breathing down his neck, Petty can’t help but keep the songwriting crisp, with a hint of twang.
The record blasts out of the gate with its biggest single, ‘Jammin’ Me,’ which spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock charts. It’s catchy and moves but suffers not only from the dated production, but lyrics that call out Eddie Murphy and Vanessa Redgrave. (It’s a co-write with Dylan; does he even know who Eddie Murphy is?)
Fortunately, the record recovers quickly on track two, ‘Runaway Trains’ – although again, you have to take off your headphones and cover your ears through the first thirty seconds or so, one of those inexplicable synthy intros that Don Henley popularized.
Once Petty’s voice cuts in, it’s a fast trip to the cutting heart of an emotional bedrock of a tune, with one of those choruses Petty has mastered, jacked through with big major chords and off-kilter metaphors — “I guess it’s one of those things / You can never explain / Like when an angel cries / Like runaway trains” — we’ll grant you, crying angels are pretty inexplicable, but runaway trains are usually investigated pretty hardcore, Tom.
The rest of the record ping-pongs between these two extremes of strong songwriting backed with classic Heartbreakers sound, and uncomfortable moments where the Eighties are sitting on the sofa and drinking all the good beer. ‘The Damage You’ve Done’ and ‘Think About Me’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Petty record from two weeks ago, grounded in electric guitar and Stan Lynch’s big-bopping drums. Then ‘My Life / Your World’ takes a perfectly decent slide guitar acoustic intro and fades it into what sounds like a Phil Collins outtake. And if Phil Collins didn’t want it, Tom Petty has no business going near it.
‘Let Me Up’ closes strong; Benmont Tench’s piano on ‘How Many More Days’ is the perfect kind of Heartbreakers hook, one that takes the bones of Petty’s song and covers it with muscle and skin. The title track at the album’s close evokes the Rolling Stones with a crunchy guitar riff and an effortless swing.
Is this damning with faint praise, or guilding a rotting lily? Maybe a bit of both. ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’ is a bit schizo like that, one of those records with big ups and deep downs, and if it isn’t clear from the above, an album where the ups make the downs worth weathering.
Watch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ ‘Jammin’ Me’ Video