Once he seemed to have lost Jeff Lynne’s phone number, one could rely on a certain consistency from Tom Petty. Wildflowers and She’s The One took a little while to sink in, but it was clear that Rick Rubin’s production approach was better suited to the Heartbreakers in general.
Echo is more of the same from TP and the H’s, and is notable for the first recorded lead vocal by lead guitarist Mike Campbell on the gloriously stupid “I Don’t Want To Fight”. And he’s not a bad singer; no worse than Tom, at any rate.
It’s a pretty long disc that should have been whittled down a bit, yet a handful of tunes stand out as sure-to-be classics. The album starts strong with “Room At The Top”, alternating between pensive musings and edgy guitar and clavinet bursts, but soon begins to meander through less inspired songwriting. (Which, naturally, could be expected from a man going through a divorce and literally living in a shack.) “Free Girl Now” was an attempt at an upbeat single, using the same chords as “You Wreck Me”, but is fairly routine. “Swingin’” starts to turn things around, and “Accused Of Love” is almost sunny. It’s the lengthy but not at all plodding title track that is the masterwork here, a fabulous piece of writing with inspired playing from everyone involved. “Won’t Last Long” and “Billy The Kid” show a sense of determination, balanced by the pleasantly petulant “This One’s For Me”.
A reliance on the same old chords does have its drawbacks, however. “About To Give Out” is a close cousin to Wilco’s “Monday”, and if forced, we can even forgive “No More”, a glaring rip-off of the Stones’ “Salt Of The Earth”.
Something’s missing from this album; it could be we miss Stan Lynch. Steve Ferrone is a nice guy and a solid drummer, but he doesn’t have Stan’s rambunctious fire on the kit. (He also doesn’t provide harmonies; that job is now taken by default sixth Heartbreaker Scott Thurston, who never adds anything of value we can discern.)
By reprogramming your CD to ten tracks (1, 6, 7, 8, 3, 13, 10, 11, 12, 5) you get just under forty minutes that would earn a solid four-star rating. But as an entity all its own, Echo fails to resonate.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Echo (1999)—2½