Grade: A (original album); B (bonus disc)
Damn The Torpedoes, the third album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, is often called a quantum leap in the band’s development. More accurately, the disc nudged up Petty a notch, from a promising songwriter to one of the best. When the album came out in 1979, he’d already cemented his Dylan-leaning, Byrds-loving sound. But label troubles, a resulting lawsuit, and a thirst to rise above the fray spurred Petty to sharpen his focus. Torpedoes’ first single, the punchy “Don’t Do Me Like That,” became his first Top 10 hit; a less successful but equally towering single, “Here Comes My Girl,” upped the jangle and showed The Heartbreakers’ striking contrast between brooding melancholy and ringing elation.
Among the rest of the tracks—including the underdog anthem “Even The Losers”—the one that truly launched Torpedoes is “Refugee.” The most angst-ridden song the band had in it, “Refugee” synthesized yet transcended everything The Heartbreakers were about: tight licks, Petty’s indelible rasp, and a haunting resonance that spoke to the past and the future. Unfortunately, the rough take of “Refugee” on the bonus disc of Torpedoes’ deluxe edition doesn’t augment the song’s mystique. And while the live cuts and gorgeous B-side “Casa Dega” are enjoyable, the selling point is the previously unheard “Nowhere,” a skeletal, hookless rocker. It’s an intriguing footnote, but it doesn’t add much to an album that’s as close to note-perfect as Petty has ever come.