For all the critics currently raving about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ return to form on Mojo, it’s easy perhaps to forget the band never really left its groove in the first place. On Mojo, the band is much looser than they’ve been in a long time, and the album is full of extended jams which show the Heartbreakers as a whole in the band’s strongest element. And though it took eight years for us to get it, the album was well worth the wait for those out there who, like songwriter Griffin House, wish we could be “Tom Petty enough” to succeed in the music world.
The key, however, to what makes Mojo work so well is the fact that the band recorded the album’s songs mostly in one take, eschewing the frequent overdubs and excesses of most rockers of this generation. Even better is that Mike Campbell, one of the world’s best but most understated guitarists, finally seems to be willing to come out and have some fun; his frequent solos on this album, including a great breakdown on “First Flash of Freedom,” help give the music a sense of freedom to go with the heft of being judged as another Heartbreakers album. In the end this has to be as close to a live experience as one can find without shelling out $150 for floor seats.
The band focuses primarily on blues rock for the length of this album, and while there’s nothing dramatically new here, it’s a welcomed effort from the kind of band we need to be hearing from these days — an album that rocks as hard as most of their prior output, introducing the sound to a new audience without having to be a 40-year-old reissue (sorry Jagger). And while nothing on here’s going to make pop radio on the level of “American Girl” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” it’s hard to deny the raw fun of “I Should Have Known It,” which at least is getting to see some daylight on rock radio. It’s the best individual track on the album, but the album is the strongest when the songs are heard in succession.
The problem with all the “Tom Petty Gets His Groove Back” sentiment in so many recent reviews is that it raises the wrong kind of expectations. This is a solid album from a rock journeyman who knows his band and wants to allow everyone involved to shine to their fullest extent. And it’s not trying to be anything other than a great Heartbreakers album. That alone should be worth the price of purchase, even without the added weight of critical hyperbole. For fans of blues and classic rock, you’re not going to find much better to fill your headphones this summer.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.