Tom Petty - Highway Companion

With a back catalogue that now spans 30 years, there must come a time when you've just had enough of it all. For Tom Petty it must just be about getting there. On his final major tour of the US at the moment, he mentioned in a recent Rolling Stone interview that he was going to tone down his publicity commitments as well. As a fan who's not seen him live yet, the prospect of never seeing him live has almost become a reality.

So "Highway Companion" could be a parting gesture. An album that signals the beginning of the end of Tom Petty's major releases and, having not recorded with the Heartbreakers this time around, it feels as though he's looking at a more simpler approach to writing and recording in the future. Even the now ever present Jeff Lynne has toned himself down this time around, the record not being spoilt by this trademark drums and polished to meaningless production.

But, there's an underlying sense here that Petty is treading water. The arrangements are quite basic and progress in a gentle manner not too dissimilar from Petty's general take on American rock. To be fair, Petty hasn't been challenged since Rick Rubin got him in the studio for "Wallflower" over 10 years ago. Here Rubin, as he did with Johnny Cash, managed to get Petty to think about what he was doing and reinvigorated the way he wrote and played. This isn't to say that this is a bad album, it just doesn't quite ignite the senses in the way that it could.

It begins positively with the single "Saving Grace", a jaunty almost country-rock number which sounds eerily like "Spirit In The Sky" in places, but this is by far the most up-beat song on here. Most of the songs seem to be dealing with growing old and returning to your roots. Obviously a scenario Petty now finds himself in. "Flirting With Time" is a retro-strum that seems to say he's ready to pass the baton on to a younger generation; "I've done all I can do, now it's up to you". What can be said though is that Petty's voice has matured nicely, sounding like how you wish Dylan would, it's nicely gruff but tuneful and soothing at times; "Down South", a lovely rolling ballad, that's perfect for him and one of the highlights. Compare this to "Jack" and it's juvenile lyrics and music that's been done a million times before with its story of a guy who is going to try and get his baby back, it just sounds a little embarrassing hearing a guy in his 60's singing this stuff. Just when you reckon you can't forgive him for that he turns in "Big Weekend". Sounding like it could have come from the Travelling Willbury's records it's a joyful, old boys romp with it's tag line of "If you don't run you'll rust" that should be the motto for anyone growing old! "Night Driver" is a another great song, gentle ruminations heavily influenced by 70's California rock with the production nicely aired allowing the guitars to breath in the warm evening air mixed with a twist of hammond organ.

So a bit of a mixed bag then. Not his worst, but not his best either. If this is to be his last album I just hope he can summon up some ideas and energy to have another go and leave us with something a little more memorable to remember him by.



out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:51:11

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