20 June, 2010

Petty's Got Mojo in 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' new album, Mojo, is a blast. I probably wouldn't have even bothered to buy it if it had been completely up to me. Not because I didn't think I'd like it, but because, though I like Tom Petty a lot, he's never been one of my personal top favorites, and as far as modern albums go, well, you're often not sure what you're gonna get. I bought The Last DJ back in 2002, though, and that one was fantastic. And this year's Mojo is, too. I think whoever's idea it was to give a digital download of the album to anyone who buys concert tickets to go see Petty on his tour this summer, it was a brilliant idea. My family has sort of got into the tradition of seeing Petty in concert every time he comes through town, and though there are other acts I might be more excited to see, I can't complain, because Petty is a classic rocker, and a class act - a real musician with integrity.

So what about the album? Mojo is a very bluesy album - for Tom Petty. And there are a lot of good rocking tracks on it, plenty that could stand for "hits". A lot of the song material is kind of melancholy, but with a certain energy - very bluesy in mood, you could say. And the closing track, Good Enough, on its own is...good enough...to move product. Since I've been listening to the album so much, I'll go through it track by track:

I read that Jefferson Jericho Blues is a song about a love affair involving Thomas Jefferson. It's a bit quirky, but it's an upbeat track to open a relatively heavy album (heavy mood, not heavy metal). You'll probably like it if you dig a good, swinging blues harp track.

First Flash of Freedom inevitably paled in comparison to Good Enough, the top standout track from this album, but in the context of the rest of the album, it proves itself to be one of the stronger tracks. The instrumentation is good, and the lyrics are pleasing in a rhythmic fashion. There is probably some kind of patriotic context to this song, but aside from being a song about America (assuming that much), I couldn't say what the deeper meaning is. "We felt so much more than our hearts could explain, on our first flash of freedom." There's a nice guitar lick in this song that makes me think of Joe Bonamassa every time I hear it, which is not something I'd have expected from a Tom Petty song, but I like it.

The next two songs on the album are both bluesy songs that, while I may not have much specifically to pick out about them, are ones that I like a lot, and make for a great atmosphere for listening to. The first one, Running Man's Bible ("I've been next in line, I've been next to nothing"), is a bit more of an upbeat rocking blues, while the second one, The Trip To Pirate's Cove, is slower and much more melancholic - and the guitar licks permeating it create a beautiful (if sad) mood. "She was a part of my heart; now she's just a line in my face."

Candy starts out with a fascinating premise which I can very much relate to, but ultimately it becomes far too repetitive for me to like listening to it terribly much. It's like, even by the end of the first listen, you've heard it enough and are good and ready for the next song. "I sure like that candy, I don't go for them turnip greens; so when you put it on the table, oh mama think about me."

No Reason To Cry doesn't really stand out, to me. I was wondering why, thinking that it must just be a generic song, but then I figured it must be the inclusion of that country slide (like the kind you'd hear on Harvest). Funny, that. It sounds pretty, sure, but for some reason, hearing it just makes my attention sort of turn away. I like my guitar with a more biting tone (and phrasing).

I heard the track I Should Have Known It on the radio, and I thought that was pretty cool. It's a great rocker, with a well-executed riff/chorus. There's not a whole lot to it, but it's a good one to listen to. "It's over now, you see; it's the last time you're gonna hurt me."

I have to laugh when I hear U.S. 41. Okay, not really, but the tune is totally a ripoff of Poor Tom (recorded by Led Zeppelin and released on Coda). Also known as Prodigal Son, when the Stones recorded it for Beggar's Banquet. Though the tune dates back (according to my research) to a Robert Wilkins song from 1929 titled That's No Way To Get Along. Not that I have any kind of moral objection to the recycling of musical themes. And the majority of Petty's track is probably original, from what I can tell. I'm just saying, the tune sounds quite similar. ;-)

Takin' My Time is another great blues, with an appropriately slow (considering the theme), stomping rhythm, and some great manipulated guitar (there's some noticeable wah) throughout. It has a bit of a dark, evil mood, on account of the mean rhythm and guitar tone.

Let Yourself Go is a solid song, if it doesn't completely stand out musically. But I like it in particular because of one line in the song - "cute little hippie girl lives in town." Yeah, I know, I'm vain. The harp returns in this one, and is a bit meaner than it was on Jefferson Jericho Blues.

Don't Pull Me Over is a Bob Marley-inspired reggae-flavored track that, despite being something of a cliche, is actually pretty good. The lyrics work as a nice plea to the authorities to overlook what have been called (though not in this song) "consensual crimes" - acts that involve only consenting participants yet are still against the law. The obvious example here (considering both Marley and Petty) is pot smoking, but the lyrics are vague enough that it could be applied to other such harmless acts of illegality. "What I've got to say won't hurt anyone; what I've got to do won't hurt anyone." The lyrics also allude to the concern over putting constructive citizens in jail over "moral infractions", and the effect that could have on the person's dependants (e.g., family). "Don't pull me over, I've got mouths to feed; don't pull me over, they depend on me." Is it worth destroying people's lives just to keep them from smoking pot (and doing other activities that don't hurt anyone, but for some reason we think are immoral)? The song also touches on the very relatable fear of being pulled over by a cop, regardless of whether or not you've got something to hide. "When the moonlight turns to blue light, makes me so afraid; let me go, leave me 'lone, til I'm home and safe."

Lover's Touch is a mellow track with a somber tone permeating through it. It speaks of desire, yet with a sense of melancholy, and depression. Like the feeling you get when you've already lost before you've had a chance to really get into the game. The best part, aside from Petty's effective vocal delivery (in that he really sells the emotion, not that he sings prettily), are the pauses that lead right into the title phrase, "she got the lover's touch". That's something that stood out for me from the first time I heard the song; it's executed perfectly.

High In The Morning is a song that combines a nice distorted riff with a watery piano part that could have come from a Doors song. I'd say it's a pretty strong middle-of-the-road rocker, with some interesting lyrics that seem to warn of the dangers of getting in over one's head - especially dealing with the token vices: alcohol, women, etc. "Boy, that power belongs to the devil, better leave that power alone, could be the devil gonna want it for his own."

Something Good Coming has a watery, reflective quality. Like something you'd sing when you're down at the river alone, watching the water drift on by. The vocal delivery is very reminiscent of past Petty tracks - the more laidback ones, that is. The theme is also classic Petty - the idea of pulling something positive out of a life that is not without its share of hardships. And the song has a nice, pulling riff to it that, like everything in the song, is present but not overpowering. "I'm an honest man, work's all I know; you take that away, don't know where to go."

Good Enough was the advance track from this album, and I liked it from the first time I heard it. Musically, it's rock solid. But what lifts it above just plain good is the concept of the song. As another reviewer put it, Petty sings that it's "good enough", but the song seems to suggest that, somehow, it isn't. It's that tragedy, of trying to content yourself with settling for less than you'd really like to have, that fuels the song's driving emotion. I want more, but this is all I've got, and it's gonna have to be good enough... "I can't trust love, it's far too risky; if she marries into money, she's still gonna miss me - and that's good enough."

Best song on the album? It's gonna have to be Good Enough. ;-)

Listed hierarchies are always difficult (and imprecise), but I've been listening to this album long enough that I felt up to putting the songs in general order (meaning, with a fair amount of leeway), from best to worst:

Good Enough
First Flash of Freedom
Don't Pull Me Over
Lover's Touch
Takin' My Time
The Trip To Pirate's Cove
I Should Have Known It
Running Man Blues
Let Yourself Go
High In The Morning
Something Good Coming
U.S. 41
Jefferson Jericho Blues
No Reason To Cry

Like, musically, Don't Pull Me Over isn't as good as some of the songs below it, but it means a lot to me (and I wrote so much about it), I feel like it deserves a high position. And I don't know if First Flash of Freedom is really the second best track, I just put it there because of the way I described it above. Anyway, as I said, leeway. The only real solid spots are the top and bottom. ;-p


  1. I recently listened to The Last DJ and somehow I was in some sort of mood where I was able to focus solely on the music, and ignore the lyrics and all the interpersonal stuff I usually think about with music, and it was fucking incredible. I was like "it definetly makes sense that this is zharth's favorite Petty album." Very cerebral music. Though I'm sure you dig the lyrics on that record too, as do I.

    First Flash of Freedom makes me think of a kid going out on his own for the first time. Or even a guy coming out of prison. But given the Jefferson track, perhaps it is patriotic... Marley is a fuckin' king in my eyes so Don't Pull Me Over is all good.

    I'm working on a Mojo-themed blog entry myself (albeit a more grim one), but I don't know if I'll ever finish it, so to borrow my feelings from there: "Mojo is an incredible record. It's probably better than Mudcrutch, which is a fucking monumental record. Mojo may or may not have the lyrical and chorusey depth of Mudcrutch (haven't figured it out yet), but it takes the instrumental glory to a whole new fucking plane. And the instrumental glory is what took Mudcrutch to a whole new fucking plane in the first place." I'm not really in the mood for a Mojo styled record at the moment, but if it had come out right after Mudcrutch, I probably would have died of joy. If nothing else, it matches the glory of Mudcrutch, which is a mighty tall order.

    Now how do you feel about the complex sessions?

  2. I like them. I feel like I haven't listened to Sleeps With Angels enough yet to notice the differences in the recorded versions of the songs. But they're great songs, and they sound good. That one review I stumbled on makes me think it'd be even better with the video.

    "I went to buy an LP, the guy only had CDs, it was so digitally clean, it was a piece of crap!" =p

  3. I'm not sure how old you are, but you totally missed the fact that Candy is a ripoff of Bread and Butter by the New Beats. Interesting that B&B was a blues song done as a pop song with the lead falsetto singer. Petty actually takes the concept back to its blues roots. However, I agree that I won't be listening to it very often.

  4. Thanks for the info, David. You're right, I had no idea about that earlier song. It's cool that Tom took it back to its blues roots, though. I'm young enough that I wasn't around when quite a bit of the music I like first came out. ;-)