Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

MCA, 1987


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“Take back your insurance / Baby nothin’ is guaranteed.”

It’s a nice line full of the sort of bristly wisdom Tom Petty had been dispensing for more than a decade by the time TP and The Heartbreakers’ 1987 album Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) arrived—and also a concise diagnosis of this album’s issues. For a while there it seemed like a Tom Petty album was simply guaranteed to be full of hooky, smart songs played by a world-class rock and roll band. And indeed, parts of that statement remain true on this album, but it’s a matter of degrees. Let Me Up is certainly a step up from the hole the band seemed to fall into around the time of 1984’s Southern Accents, but still falls well short of their best.

Opener “Jammin’ Me” offers some promise, an energetic jam co-written with Bob Dylan, who TP and band had just backed on a national tour; it’s just that for all the enthusiasm of Petty’s delivery, the lyric is a word salad—a Dylanesque word salad, to be sure, but a word salad nonetheless. What juice the song does muster doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.

“Runaway Train” is where you’re reminded just how much damage ’80s production aesthetics could do to a rock band’s sound. Never mind that the song is a weak sister to better tunes Petty wrote before and after; the production lands it in a sinkhole of ’80s mediocrity, guitars and synths sharp and trebly and nothing but edges, while the drums are flattened to the point of anonymity. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

At least “Runaway Train” sounds like Petty is reaching for something, even if he doesn’t quite grasp it; “The Damage Is Done” just feels rote: cliché plus simple hook equals pure filler. From there Petty begins to experiment a bit. “It’ll All Work Out” feels a little bit like acoustic Zeppelin at first, riding a lilting melody; it just doesn’t feel like the song ever really takes off. Meanwhile “My Life/ Your World” finds TP offering up his best Dylan imitation at the mike over an arrangement drenched in ’80s production clichés. Mike Campbell’s restrained guitar sounds rather Mark Knopfler here, an intriguing change of pace for him, but one that can’t rescue this listless tune.

“Think About Me” has a nice snap to it, injecting some life into the proceedings; still, it feels like an energetic trifle matched up against Petty’s best. The next four tunes are muddled filler and nothing more; “All Mixed Up” is half-hearted and lazy, “A Self-Made Man” features a schmaltzy faux country-western sound on the verses that’s vaguely embarrassing; “Ain’t Love Strange” offers up a metaphor for the entire album, with TP confused, disoriented, and searching for direction; and “How Many More Days” wraps an underdeveloped lyric around a River-era Springsteen arrangement.

The closing title song carries hints of the fight that’s missing from much of the rest of the album, a fierce little rocker with the guitars turned back up and Petty singing like he means it. (An interesting footnote here is that when Petty subsequently set off to make Full Moon Fever with Jeff Lynne, the first Heartbreaker he pulled in for his first solo album was lead guitarist Campbell. Yes, the two had been musical foils in the band context for a decade, with Campbell co-writing at least a song or two on every Petty album, but Campbell is often relegated to the background on Let Me Up, perhaps the most keyboard-centric album in the band’s entire catalog.)

Whatever the internal dynamics at play at the time, the bottom line is that Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) is for Petty completists only, a muddled, at times apathetic album from a band that the world knew was capable of so much more. The good news was, they would bounce back strong in the years yet to come.

Rating: C

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