Hot off the class-reunion jam of Mudcrutch, Tom Petty attempts to bring a similar sense of noodling over to the Heartbreakers. The most glaring question, considering the bands under-appreciated keep-it-simple-stupid approach on record and cole slaw grind on stage, is “Why?”
With that sense of “Let’s ring up the fellas and play guitar awhile” approach out of the picture with Mojo, Petty’s twelfth album with the Heartbreakers sounds like lazy meanderings and the most uninspired collection of songs in his otherwise impressive catalog.
It’s clear that the time with Mudcrutch, road work with the Black Crowes, and the stark reality that Petty and the Heartbreakers are at a point where they should be a handsomely rewarded, perennial touring unit at this point, the band seems to be carefully considering life as a jam band. The shitty thing is—even with these reportedly first and second take songs—the Heartbreakers sound stiff and anemic throughout Mojo.
There are no wrong notes, no derring-do, nothing to suggest the performances wrinkled anyone’s shirts or brought a sweat to the brow of those involved.
Take the song that comes close to raising a pulse, “I Should Have Known It.” New drummer the dude-who-isn’t-Stan-Lynch, kicks out a big, wide open beat while Petty and Mike Campbell work out a snaky pattern on guitar. It’s wonderful on paper and well performed, so why does the band sound like they’re counting the measures to the abrupt stops before the chorus.
“US 41” tries hard to stir up some Delta snarl, but even with Campbell’s wonderfully toned slide guitar and Petty’s distorted vocals for an antiquated effect, the song is delivered so monochromatically that the color blue is nowhere near it.
But nothing will prepare you for the absolutely worst Tom Petty song of all time, a track so embarrassingly bad that you’ll prey for Jeff Lynne to burst in to start an intervention. The song is “Don’t Pull Me Over,” performed in the same ballpark of Eric Clapton‘s “I Shot The Sherriff,” only an exclusively white ballpark. Yes, it’s a reggae-infused song about driving high and seeing a cop in the rear-view window and yes, it’s worse than you could possibly imagine.
Around this point, you’ll inevitably come to realize that you’ve breezed through a good chunk of time to get to “Don’t Pull Me Over” and the album still has a few more time requirements. Whether or not you choose to spend them with the rest of Mojo is a matter for consideration, but it’s something you don’t normally experience on Heartbreakers albums.
Because Mojo fails on another level, and it’s the ability to get it done in a nice, efficient manner. It carries on and on, to a point where it goes beyond authenticity and hovers right around the avenue of self-indulgence. It possesses none of the virile passion its title would suggest and is a flaccid attempt at trying to sound loose while sounding too uptight to even get it up.