I confess that I’m favorably disposed to Tom Petty. Maybe because his Greatest Hits was one of the first ten albums I ever owned. Maybe because the video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is so delightfully sick and twisted. Maybe because I was only about 12 or 13 when his first impression was made on me and because at that age we are such soft clay that even the most worn-down stamp still has the chance to leave some lasting mark. Whatever the reason, my disposition inclines me to overlook those qualities of his music which seem to make him and his Heartbreakers so impossible for a lot of people in my generation, maybe even some of you, to take him seriously.
His songs lack depth and nuance; his music for the most part is that unadventurous, inoffensive sort of rock you might expect from an almost rebel who grew old instead of dying. The message of nearly every song can be reduced to one of the following binary statements: 1) I’m trapped/I’m escaping, 2) Don’t leave me/Leave me alone, or 3) Let’s get stoned/What’s the harm in getting stoned? I know these things. Perhaps the best you might say about the Tom Petty oeuvre is that these songs can be fun... Fun, for example, to sing along with when you’re driving and they come on the radio. But who would ever sit down and give Tom Petty a serious listen? Who, especially in this age of hyperlink-induced attention deficit, would prepare for Tom Petty one’s undivided, concentrated focus?
No one. Not even me. The music just doesn’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny. Especially not “Free Fallin’.” That song blows. Keep these qualifications in mind if and when you sample the newly-released Mojo.
”]Perhaps a few of you caught the recent performance on SNL of “I Should Have Known It,” the first single from Mojo. Even to my favorably disposed mind, Petty appeared tired and the song did little to recommend the album (though the official video, I think, undoes some of the damage).
But now that the album has finally dropped and I’ve had a chance to listen to it all the way through (while multitasking, of course), I think I’m willing to say that this follow-up to 2007’s Highway Companion (which I actually really do recommend…it was one of the surprisingly few albums that I had with me in the car during last summer’s 8600 mile cross-country jaunt) is greater than the sum of its parts. Pick any one track out of the line-up and on it’s own it will appear one-dimensional, perhaps even comically so, but put them all together and you’ve got an album that tells the story of a whole life.