Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tom Petty Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1976, You're Gonna Get It! 1978, Damn The Torpedoes 1979

Tom Petty passed away last year, and I'm a bit late to the wake.

I'm not one of those people that will take anything away from Petty. The guy was just a kid (and later a grownup) with a guitar, and the pure purpose of mission to be a rock star.

A talented singer, writer, guitarist and band leader that can stand his body of work against any. And I don't say that lightly. Moreover, and of real importance, is that Petty produced three magnificent, near perfect records in a row. If you consider how many artists/bands manage something near perfect on three consecutive releases, the list gets pretty darn short.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1976, the debut. Rockin' Around (With You), Breakdown, Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll, Fooled Again (I Don't Like It), Mystery Man, and the great American Girl. They might have tried to brand it punk, but it was always just rock and roll, with all of the essential elements.

You're Gonna Get It! 1978 took everything about the debut and turned it up one more notch. The title track, Hurt, Magnolia, I Need To Know, Listen To Her Heart, Baby's A Rock 'n' Roller, all of them just defined rock and roll in a fundamental way that Petty conjured with his songs and his delivery. There was an American heart to his sound: part Bryds, part Stones, part South. It is surprising how much good music comes from parts of the world where it's hot most of the time.

Which brings us to Damn The Torpedoes 1979. A new label. A follow-up to the chart breakthrough. And Petty sends it out of the park. Refuge, Here Comes My Girl,  Even The Losers: these three open the record with a statement of purpose. This band is in charge, and they are going to tour this material until you hear it in your sleep. Don't Do Me Like That was top ten. The sneer that was Petty's response to Dylan's drawl completed the trifecta.

You show me any artist that produces three consecutive records as good as these three, and I'll concede that they are Tom Petty's equals. There aren't that many competitors. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

St. Vincent Masseduction 2017

I've just spent the last hour or so reading the "best albums of 2017" lists from all the big music review media outlets, and man, do I feel old.

I suppose there are plenty of music lovers in the AARP set that would feel the same way. But one of my favorites did in fact make it to most of those lists, St. Vincent's Masseduction.

I can't add much to the praise and descriptions you can read elsewhere, and I agree with those who have been impressed with the arc of St. Vincent's career. From the quirky pop of Marry Me 2007, to the more expansive, more dangerous Actor 2009, and on to the more inward-looking Strange Mercy 2011, St. Vincent has grown with every new release. 2014's St. Vincent rocked everyone's best-of lists, and for good reason. The increased use of St. Vincent's distorted guitar and jarring electronics, along with an outstanding set of songs all helped the 2014 release receive accolades. It was hard to see how she would top that effort. But she did.

How did she make an even better album? She added more. More precisely crafted songs. More twisted, distorted guitar (Well, not really more than the last record, but plenty). More lyrical twists somewhere between personal and frightening. More perfect arrangements layering synths and programming on top of her human voice and otherworldly guitar distortion. And a more pop sound, courtesy of producer and songwriter Jack Antonoff (P!nk, Taylor Swift, Lorde, Sara Bareilles), who does not so much change St. Vincent, but helps her become, well, more.

New music that presents a future we might just be able to live with (or, occasionally, a nightmare we cannot escape). Forward progress that integrates the best of the artist's past work while becoming something new. St. Vincent continues to venture further down the road her muse is leading her along, and we all benefit.