Firstly, let me preface this by saying that Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers, of course) is my favourite musician of all time. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I go on about him like he’s some saint. And he is. Just to me. And no official religious body.
So, this review may be biased, somewhat. But I’m owed that at least – and after all, one must keep in mind the astonishing achievements of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers before looking at any recent material of theirs. These guys have penned several Top 10 hits, in both the US and UK. They played at Live Aid, and they risked everything to take down malicious record companies. Tom and his pals were already legends in the music business, let alone the rock scene.
And in 2010, they released their first studio piece in eight years. I present: ‘Mojo’. Already we’re off to a good start, with a slightly optimistic-if-ambiguous title. Mojo is an interesting selection of an impressive fourteen tracks – and why would we expect any less? It’s been eight years, after all – most at least somewhat tinctured with the iconic blues sound now synonymous with Tom’s neck of the woods. The album’s big single, for example, ‘I Should Have Known It’, is a raucous and rambunctious rocker of a song, with guitar that distorts and pierces your eardrum repeatedly. In a good way. Tom’s vocals still sound powerful after all this time, with even a newfound drawl that is perfect for the record’s sound.
The only trouble is: don’t get used to this too often. The album has a few fast-paced, rocking boogie blues for sure (you’ll find these in the album’s opener, ‘Jefferson Jericho Blues’ and ‘U.S. 41’ – both highlight tracks). But most of Mojo is packed with more laid-back, slower approaches to blues and guitar.
Take ‘The Trip to Pirate’s Cove’, for example. It’s opening sets the mood for some late 50’s speakeasy in the south side of town, full of smoke and monochrome. And that’s the feel of this album. Petty’s voice here is like smooth butter, melted down and poured into your ears. That may sound horrible, but his vocals sure don’t. The echoes of each verse accompanied with subtle guitar work from Mike Campbell just fuses flawlessly. The only caveat here is the length – at five minutes, it’s not even the longest track on the record.
And that’s hardly a bad thing. But more than a couple times with Mojo, you find yourself wondering why a track lingers past the three-minute mark. Sure, we get more dreamy guitar, but it isn’t always needed.
Still, there’s at least some variation with this record. ‘Don’t Pull Me Over’ is a seamless splice of blues rock and reggae, of all genres. And it works; it sounds tailor-made for Petty, who laments about trying to make his way through life, beset by police and family alike. It makes for one of the best tracks on the album. It’s sublime, it’s mellow, and it’s oh-so-sweet on the ears.
‘Candy’, ‘High in The Morning’ and ‘Good Enough’ are all tracks that could be straight out of Mudcrutch’s (Tom’s side project with a much more southern sound) back catalogue, only with a bit more oomph. There is certainly action here, it’s just a little more hidden than you’d expect for someone of Tom’s reputation.
Overall, Mojo is not a bad record. It’s just not a brilliant one, either. Even after sitting through each and every song to the very end, finding myself more at peace with the world than ever before, I remember… forgetting a few of the tracks. And sure, that’s always going to happen. Most albums you find will have the obvious non-singles, the filler. And, well, if you find a record that boasts none, then it’s an accomplishment indeed. And, also to be fair to the band, Mojo has fourteen tracks. That’s a fair few. Some are going to get lost, blend seamlessly into one another.
But more than a few times here, I found the softer sound not being quite enough. There was rock here, somewhere, I just had to find it. It was hiding too deep for me, and though I liked what I was hearing… it wasn’t Tom Petty. And then it clicked.
The trick here is to remember that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have lived through their glory days. They’ve rocked themselves to death, and now they want a softer, more refined sound. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, sometimes it does. And here, it really does. Just don’t sit back and expect a record full of ‘Refugee’s or ‘American Girl’s. Chances are, if you liked ‘Breakdown’ more, then this is your bag. And even if classic rock is the be-all and end-all for you, you’ll find something you really dig here. Just give Mojo a chance.