The Heartbreak of Success
By Dave Hall
St. Petersburg Times — August 2, 1991
Tom Petty’s recent work dilutes new album with the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Into The Great Wide Open (MCA) | ★★★★
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Gone Gator Records) | ★★★★
You’re Gonna Get It (Gone Gator Records) | ★★★★
The intimidating success of Tom Petty’s work with the Traveling Wilburys and his solo record, Full Moon Fever, may be blessings that plague the artist now. Now that the time has come for another record with his initial aidesmen, the flavor of Tom Petty’s outside project has seeped into the mixture, overpowering and overshadowing the potential of drummer Stan Lynch, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, who along with guitarist Mike Campbell, comprise the Heartbreakers.
As a result, Into the Great Wide Open, indelibly stamped by the luxuriant production of Wilbury Jeff Lynne along with Petty and Campbell, occasionally sounds more like Full Moon Fever Revisited than an effort with The Heartbreakers.
There are obvious examples; All the Wrong Reasons is like a rewrite of Free Fallin’ from the Petty solo record; Makin’ Some Noise seems a raucous extension of Runnin’ Down a Dream, and the hypnotic guitar on the underside of Into the Great Wide Open recalls A Face in the Crowd.
By contrast, some moments on Into the Great Wide Open shine of their own accord. There is the seemingly incomplete, yet haunting, melody in Too Good to Be True. Gutter-edged rhythm mixed with fiery slide guitar fuels All of Nothin’, and the single, Learnin’ to Fly is one of the brightest spots on radio this summer.
But for insight into The Heartbreakers’ contributions to the Petty effort, better to check out the re-issued CDs, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and You’re Gonna Get It!
Re-released on Petty’s own Gone Gator label, these aged albums display the growth of the group (with Ron Blair on bass, before Howie Epstein’s addition) both instrumentally and in terms of their musical vision as a whole.
Often misjudged as a punk-rock effort because of its dark, aggressive attitude and appearance, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers features the hit Breakdown, which nudged its way into the Top 40 like a sly dog during the second half of the ’70s. Yet there are other high points as well. Denny Cordell’s garage band production, exemplified by Stan Lynch’s trash-lid drum intro to Rockin’ Around (With You), displays The Heartbreakers’ lack of superstar budget, while the break-neck American Girl spurred constant comparisons to the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, who would later team with Petty for varied projects and LPs.
Cordell put The Heartbreakers through their paces again on You’re Gonna Get It!, a record that sported hits like the frenetic I Need to Know and another Byrds sound-alike, Listen to Her Heart.
Neither the group’s debut or You’re Gonna Get It! are as pleasant-sounding as Into the Great Wide Open, but they have more truth than formula in their grooves.
Although Into the Great Wide Open is no artistic failure for Petty and his team, it isn’t as satisfying as it could have been if The Heartbreakers were allowed to build on their own impressive legacy. Unfortunately, this time, Petty seems to be the only recognizable face in their crowd.