Music News

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo

Artist: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Title: Mojo
Release date: June 15
Label: Reprise

How many of you have acts that you'd never call yourself a fan of, would never buy one of their records, or pay money to see in concert, yet recognize that the acts have been around for so long and written songs that eventually became a part of the cultural landscape such that you wind up actually liking them?

I'd argue that The Beatles would be the prime example. Most people like The Beatles, but even those who say they don't actually do, because The Beatles' songs are so much a part of our lives. We can't help but sing along, even if we're not technically a fan. In other words, you pretty much have to like The Beatles.

For me, a handful of other artists fall into that category, including U2 and Tom Petty. I don't call myself a fan of either band but I've come to respect and, yes, even like their output over the years. When hits like "American Girl," "Freefallin'," "The Waiting," and others came out, I thought little of them. Now, I actually like to hear a Petty song on the radio or on a jukebox at the bar. Maybe it's out of nostalgia; maybe because he has settled into that role of quintessential artist. I'm not really sure, but I'm curious to hear what acts might fall into that category for you.

With Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' culture-defining and hit-making days probably over, they can do what other old-timer artists seem to do: Make a record for themselves and simply hope (or not) that a few fans will join them for the ride. 

That's what Mojo is: a loose, laid-back (and almost sleepy) jam session in which Petty and the band knock around a lot of musical ideas from various American rock idioms, mostly blues, rock, and country-folk. They even take a swing at a reggae-ish number.

There's really nothing resembling a typical Tom Petty instant classic on Mojo, which will no doubt turn some listeners off. And there's barely even a whiff of a hit on this record. Instead, it's an hour-long exercise in jamming, with some good results (courtesy of original Heartbreaker and lead guitarist Mike Chapman Campbell) but these 15 songs are mostly less-than-compelling -- at least by Petty standards. Petty's lyrics are what you'd expect -- character-driven tales of people running to or from something in their lives.

I'm not saying they didn't try on this record. They just didn't try to make a hit, which is what most people want from a legend like Petty. Die-hards and musical gearheads will probably still get off on Mojo. The rest of us will eventually forget that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released a record in 2010.
Best song: "U.S. 41"
Rotation: Low-medium
Deja Vu: Contractual obligations.
I'd rather listen to: My favorite Tom Petty tune is probably "You Don't Know How It Feels"
Grade: C

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett