THE ALBUM -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers; "Damn the Torpedoes," Backstreet/MCA Records (MCA-5105.); THE SHOW -- At Merriweather Post Pavilion, Saturday at 7:30.
Pretty Tom Petty blows into town this week under a full head of steam with a big-selling album, "Damn the Torpedoes."
While his two earleir efforts were miscast in a punkish light and neglected, Petty's new album is mainstream rock in the best sense. True, a number of rock-hero influences are evident; there's a hint of Dylan on at least one cut, a tad of Springsteen in the forceful manner of his growing-up anthems, and a Jagger-like edge tohis voice on others. Distinct '60s Byrds stylings also are apparent in the lush mix of Petty's 12- and six-string guitars and the quintet's tight harmonies. Still, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers have a personal style beyond the derivative sounds, and they're rocking to stardom, full speed ahead.
On "Torpedoes," Petty fires away with accessible but 3-D tunes. The cuts are catchy enough to be hit singles, but so complex in music and lyrics as to form a sustaining LP. Two tracks are preceded by electronic pulsations and quirks, like a pinball machine registerting bonus points. But for the most part, the album goes about the business of pure rock.
Just when he's sounding most vulnerable, Petty slips in a bit of cool advice for the girl who's done him dirt. Although the specifics about Petty's women are absent, his snarling tone often ends up as pleading. Love is consuming and confusing since his women "always like to leave me with a shadow of a doubt." On "Here Comes My Girl," he leers "watch her walk" and then, Jagger-style, his half-spoken musings turn to throaty screeching and finally flow into a rounded rock chorus. He begs another not to jilt him on "Don't Do Me Like That," with an infectious beat and funky rhythms to match the knowing lyrics.
Singing through hurt feelings on another cut, he assures himself, "I can take a little pain." But there's more than a little in his voice and the anxious music. Nervous guitars take him to the edge of high-pitched, searing notes, and piano stabs support his uneasy stance.
Then, shifting gears to a heartbreak ballad in the Dylan vein, he rasps through "Louisiana Rain." It's a familiar sad song about Lonely Street and rain fallin' like tears, complete with whiny harmonica.
Ultimately, Petty has the last word, telling a haughty lover, "even the losers get lucky sometime." Floating organ chords and rippling drums join the wall of guitar sound and repeated hook-line harmony.
Switching easily from slow, deep phrases to high screams and back, from bass-filled dark passages to soaring electric guitar runs, Petty's got his wide range in sharp focus. His vocal displays and songwriting coups confirm the album's positive message: "It works out in the long run."