Will that be the epitaph for Tom Petty the Rocker? In his first album with his longtime band since 1987, Petty seems to be shaking his Traveling Wilburys slumber. But those who miss the forceful rock he played before that teaming with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne will find only sporadic solace.
With Lynne co-producing (with Petty and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell) and co-writing eight of the songs, with Petty singing a little like Lynne here, a little like Dylan there, with the relaxed beats, chunky strum and liquid, Harrisonian guitar breaks, the Wilbury vibe prevails. Reflective in tone and smooth in texture, the album has the formal beauty and lack of immediacy typical of Lynne’s aerated sound.
Some edgier moments and a Drifters/R&B-flavored; closing track provide relief, but it’s Petty’s regained focus as a songwriter that keeps things afloat. In songs of personal taking stock and sketches of characters caught between abandonment and redemption, in Dylanesque allegory and mystical prayer, Petty is by turns heartfelt and humorous, scathing and sympathetic.
Near the end of the album, in “Makin’ Some Noise,” one of the few truly rocking tunes, he creates an oddly touching image: Hearing a guitarist practicing across the canyon from his home, Petty picks up his electric guitar and plays along. “I’m makin’ some noise, I’m still a working boy,” he declares, transported back to his bar-band, dues-paying days. If he takes that sentiment to heart, the next Petty album may snarl instead of sigh.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).