Petty still stuck in wrong gear
By Patrick Ercolano
The Telegraph-Herald — May 17, 1985
Something about Tom Petty’s music suggests a car traveling 30 miles per hour in second year. It’s going forward all right, and yet it’s straining to shift up and really get moving. Listening to Petty can be such a frustrating and, finally, annoying experience that it almost makes you want to change the turntable speed to 45 RPM, anything to help the guy go as fast as he should.
Petty and his four-man back-up, the Heartbreakers, have enjoyed the respect of both the public and critics for nearly a decade. And why not, since the boys specialize in a respectable kind of rock? It’s difficult to knock such tunes as “American Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee” and “The Waiting.” Then again, they lack the sort of spit and fire that would earn them admittance to the pantheon of all-time rock classics.
“Southern Accents” (MCA, MCA-5486), the new album by Petty and company, deserves credit for the way Petty tries some new ideas (new for him, anyway), partly breaking from the formula he established with the popular “Damn the Torpedoes!” LP of 1979. He tries, but doesn’t always succeed.
The new ideas include a sitar, lively horn charts, female choruses, Memphis soul and Talking Heads-style funk. The sitar and female chorus (actually Marilyn Martin overdubbing herself) are featured on the hit single “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” With such strong atmosphere, the song was made to be a hit single.
“Don’t Come Around Here,” like most of the album’s highlights, occupies side one. Also included here are the opener, “Rebels,” a defiant tune in the tradition of “Damn the Torpedoes!,” and the sad but still dignified title sound, aided immeasurably by Petty’s subdued vocal, Benmont Tench’s piano accompaniment and Jack Nitzche’s string arrangement.
Side two begins with a fair Memphis-soul track, “Make It Better,” though it falls in the 30-mph-in-second-gear category. It’s got a decent sound but just doesn’t have much real spark. The same can be said for “Spike,” “Dogs on the Run” (Bruce Springsteen makes an Alpo commercial?), the insipid “Mary’s New Car” and the finale, “The Best of Everything,” co-produced by Robbie Robertson and featuring ex-Band mates Garth Hudson on keyboards and Richard Manuel on harmony vocal.