Review by David Bauder
The Albany Herald — July 25, 1991
“Into the Great Wide Open” (MCA) — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
It must be said: Jeff Lynne has become a plague on rock’s older generation.
The former Electric Light Orchestra head and current Traveling Wilbury has produced albums for George Harrison, the Wilburys, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and himself in recent years. The downside of his work is obvious on “Into the Great Wide Open,” the new album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The distinctive stamp of the Heartbreakers — one of rock’s best bands — is all but replaced by the signature sound of a Lynne-produced album. That’s a slick pop sound with layered background vocals on a bed of acoustic guitars.
“Great Wide Open” sounds distressingly like the last Wilburys collection, a pleasant collection of pop tunes forgotten almost instantly. Except for an occasional Mike Campbell guitar solo, it’s hard to tell the Heartbreakers are even here. Where is keyboard player Benmont Tench?
Petty’s songs have become more concise lyrically over the years and, though he seems too young for the job, he’s taken on the guise of a curmudgeon watching the world from one or two steps back.
A bemused Petty looks on from the suburbs in the title song’s story of a young rocker’s attempt to take over Los Angeles. “Out in the great wide open,” Petty sings. “A rebel without a clue.”
The deceptively simple “Learning to Fly” shows a fatalistic Petty negotiating a troubled path through life. “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings,” he concludes. “Coming down is the hardest thing.”
“You and I Will Meet Again” and “Makin’ Some Noise” are the best of the album’s other 10 songs. The latter sounds like the Heartbreakers actually got together and had some fun.
Petty’s made an album that’s professional but far too comfortable. The next time he gets together with the Heartbreakers, he should leave his pal Jeff at home.