Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I cannot admit to ever being a die-hard Tom Petty fan, although I did appreciate some of his more popular singles, and even more so his story-line music videos featuring the likes of Johnny Depp. Without labeling his music as backwoods, a stereotype that most veteran Southern rockers have been so casually cast into, I admired Petty’s latest album for its “sticking to your roots and what people liked you for in the first place” logic. So many veteran rockers attempt a new generation comeback by abandoning the sound and image that made them so popular and doing everything in their power to re-invent themselves. Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane fame once said, “I don’t wanna see old people on a rock n’ roll stage.” However discriminatory that quote may be, so-called living legends do make fools out of themselves when they make blasé albums that take meaningful songwriting and add to it synthesizers, modern lingo, and a multi-million dollar tour with flamboyant stage screens large enough to distinguish the wrinkles.
Petty never bows to trends, nor is he ever accused of being a sell-out. He has always been known for writing lyrics that are in-elegant and sometimes downright crude. In “About to Give Out,” he sings, “Moses started drinkin’/ He got a little rude/ We woke up in the bushes/ Beat to Hell and nude.” However blunt and distasteful to some, I respect the honesty and genuineness of his songwriting, letting the people peek into the sardonic and candid bowels of Tom Petty — a place die-hard fans are giddy in line to visit.
As for me, I feel Petty is at his best when he portrays protagonists’ dilemmas as a central theme to a song, resistant people who do not cave into pathetic victim status in the wake of their afflictions. The man who “went down hard” in “Billy the Kid” “got up again” fighting off humiliation and disgrace. In “Free Girl Now,” the girl becomes independent from her tyrannical lovers and bosses (“Honey, put your sugar down/ Dazzle, dazzle the moon above/ Lay your victim down/ Baby, you’re a free girl now”). Musically, I like how most of the songs, including the single, “Room at the Top” start with Petty doing a solo acoustic style lead with jazz percussion and slowly builds his ensemble of rockin’ guitar rifts during memorable choruses. And the Heartbreakers fill Echo with songs that are tightly performed, while still maintaining a collaboration of musical improvisation and instinctiveness in their songwriting.