Long After Dark

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

MCA, 1982


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I hate the 1980s for so many different reasons that words sometimes fail. 

In addition to producing some of my least favorite musical styles and artists ever, the 80s threatened to ruin (and in some cases did ruin) the careers of a number of terrific artists from the 70s. In far too many cases, said artists reacted to disco and new wave and Brit-pop and corporate rock by surrendering to fashion, scrubbing their sound antiseptically clean, punching up the synths and electronic drums, and emotionally distancing themselves from their own music.

It was a soul-deadening trend, and for all their classic-rock fervor and efforts to maintain musical integrity, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers were not immune to it. You can hear it from the opening chords of “A One Story Town” -- the slicked-up guitars, the flat, tinny drum tone, the processed vocals.  Not that “Town” (or the similarly botched “We Stand A Chance”) is a terrible song -- it isn’t, it’s just been dressed up all wrong, like taking the smart-mouthed biker on Petty’s debut album cover and putting him in Don Johnson’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Miami Vice white Armani instead. 

Setting aside the production for a moment – because that’s as long as we possibly can – it must be said that there are several decent songs on this album.  “Deliver Me” and “Finding Out” offer plenty of drive, “Change Of Heart” features one of those chunky guitar hooks that just won’t let go, and “A Wasted Life” is one of the group’s finer ballads, atmospheric, moody and well-arranged.  None of these tunes, though, is better than pretty good, and the rest – including the rather ironically titled “Same Old You” -- is same-y filler, meaning this disc can’t be classified as anything other than a disappointment. After three and half albums of timeless, vital music, with Long After Dark, Petty and the Heartbreakers suddenly sounded distressingly ordinary. 

Oh, say the Petty faithful, but what about the big single?

The big single from this disc is in fact possibly my least favorite cut on it. “You Got Lucky” could have been a terrific song, no question. It’s among Petty’s finer snarly, self-affirming lyrics (Tom gives great attitude), and has a solid melodic foundation, but the entire construction comes crashing down the minute poor Benmont Tench starts playing one of the decade’s most annoying two-finger synthesizer riffs. I’ve heard more attractive car alarms.

Long After Dark fortunately did not portend the end of Tom Petty’s productive songwriting days, only a mid-career lull. He would bounce back later in the decade with better songs and more fitting production. Until then, though, things were indeed rather dark for awhile.  Damn you, 80s… damn you.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.