Graham Reid | | 2 min read
My take on Tom Petty -- most of whose albums in the first decade or more I cherished with a passion, but had misfortunes with the man -- is that when he hooked up with the Traveling Wilburys he became prematurely geriatric and he lost his rock edge.
This is a theory which doesn't bear much serious scrutiny perhaps (I was "wrong" about the Wilburys as I have conceded), but after the Wilburys there were a lot of songs which were strum-strum and much less sting-sting.
I always liked him better when there was an edge of menace about his lyrics and delivery. But when he started talking about a band locking into a groove (the last refuge of sad-bastard musos I always think: see Mark Knopfler) and the delivery didn't match the lyrics I sort of gave up.
As with McCartney -- because I wanted to be surprised again -- I'd always listed to every Petty album. But, as with McCartney, I'd always come away mostly disappointed.
The recent, fiery four-CD Petty/Heartbreakers live Anthology -- and earlier that terrific Peter Bogdanich bio-doco Running Down a Dream -- got Tom back into my sight-lines again, and this one is very interesting, if not entirely persuasive.
At times you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a Tom/Heartbreakers' roots'n'blues album: repeatedly there are are echoes of Muddy Waters, swamp blues with wah-wah, rural blues, r'n'b one step removed from the Stones' version of the blues . . .
Don't Pull Me Over is like the scenario of Bob Marley's Roadblock wished into Springsteen's Mr State Trooper (on Nebraska) with the neither the starkness nor the relevance of either: Whatever the suggested scenario (Petty as a dealer just doin' right for kids) just doesn't gel. As has been too often the case with Petty lately, his delivery sounds like a guy who'd rather offer passive resistance (or whimper We Shall Overcome) than get up/stand up . . . or even do a runner with the cops in chase.
That limpness of spirit is evident elsewhere here: US 41 is a deliberately lo-fi acoustic back-country blues which sketches in a story which seems a verse short of being complete; A Trip to Pirate's Cove is a weary and joyless reminiscence of what sound like a shapeless stoner's journey.
But what also redeems parts of this are songs like the genuinely affecting No Reason to Cry about regret after a relationship has ended; the Muddy Waters' menace on Takin' My Time (which suggests the slower pace means a meaner revenge); and Something Good Coming which offers a flicker of optimism and quiet salute to the dignity and strength of of the human spirit despite these hard times.
So a typicallly uneven Petty/Heartbreakers album . . . but given the sustained mood of roots and blues this also sounds more consistent over the long haul.
And so, as always also, you still never count him out.