30 Years Ago: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Succumb to the ’80s on ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’
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There’s a dark, evil creature shambling through the back catalogs of the greatest rock artists ever, and it’s called the ’80s.
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 ’80s made its move, resulting in Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), an album that sounds like a product of its time.
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 self-conscious-free looseness and a well-earned status as an underrated gem in Petty’s catalog. Even with the ’80s breathing down his neck, Petty can’t help but keep the songwriting crisp, with a hint of twang.
The record starts with its biggest single, “Jammin’ Me,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It’s catchy and moves, but suffers not only from the dated production, but lyrics that call out Eddie Murphy and Vanessa Redgrave.
Fortunately, the record recovers quickly on track two, “Runaway Trains,” though again, you have to take off your headphones and cover your ears through the first 30 seconds or so during one of those inexplicable synthy intros that so many rock artists favored back in the day.
Once Petty’s voice cuts in, it’s a fast trip to the cutting heart of an emotional bedrock of a tune, with a chorus 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,” Petty sings.
The rest of the record ping-pongs between these two extremes of strong songwriting backed with classic Heartbreakers sound, and uncomfortable moments where the ’80s 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 new Petty record, 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 leftover song from one of the era’s more pop-oriented artists.
But 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.
These days, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) sounds like a scattered record, with plenty of big ups and deep downs. But in the end, it’s an album where the ups make the downs worth weathering.
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