Friday, February 26, 2010

Tom Petty 13: Echo

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 offers little of value we can discern here.)
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)—

1 comment:

  1. When I heard “Free Girl Now” on the radio, I said to myself, “Oh, that’s nice enough”. I didn’t go right out and buy the album right away, though. Then I heard “Swingin’” on an in-flight playlist (back in the days when they still had such things on airplanes), and I was instantly sold. One of Tom’s classics, truly.
    The rest of the album doesn’t quite reach that height, but I think it’s better than you do. The Heartbreakers make much more of a mark here than they did on She’s the One. It’s lacking a bit in musical variety, but the songwriting is very solid. Lyrically, Tom moves between sadness, optimism, and perseverance. People have assumed that this was based on Tom’s divorce, but none of the songs are obviously autobiographical. What’s missing, for the most part, is Tom’s more whimsical side. The one exception is “About to Give Out”, one of his silly, but fun, narratives.
    Perhaps the album is a little long and musically repetitive, lacking the variety of some of the other albums. I’d be hard pressed to figure out which tracks to cut out, however. Maybe I would have edited the title track and "One More Day, One More Night" down by a minute or so. Oh, and I’d DEFINITELY would have left off "I Don't Wanna Fight". Mike Campbell is an excellent guitarist, producer, and composer. However, he is NOT a singer, and the punky guitar attack is way out of place. In the vinyl LP days, this would have, at best, been relegated to a B-side.
    That one can just be skipped over when listening. The rest of the album is fine, and very moving in many places. Well worth the time.