Mediocrity from Tom Petty
By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Sunday, June 30, 1991
Obscure lyrics, tame music make for disappointing new album
Into the Great Wide Open | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | MCA
If Tom Petty were indeed bolting into the great wide open on this much-anticipated follow-up to “Full Moon Fever”, we might have a clearer understanding of what he’s trying to say.
Petty always was about mystery. But as it is, “Into the Great Wide Open” is full of hazy references, half-baked concepts, unresolved tales, cliched metaphors and strained poetic meaning.
Things about the “dark of the sun,” flying without wings, a king’s highway, rainbows on the smog, something (it’s not explained) that’s too good to be true.
Couple the lyrics with songwriting dominated by Jeff Lynne, still a fifth Beatles wanna-be and you’ve got one of the great rock survivalists sliding into generic mediocrity.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Petty’s career has rebounded with his own music and that of the Traveling Wilburys – whose last LP, “Vol. 3”, is superior.
Several long tours have intervened. Time constraints may have forced Petty and company into fashioning songs out of their natural cycle of incubation.
Also, what’s Petty got to rail about anymore? Record company hassles behind him, it’s no longer damn the torpedoes.
On the most telling song, “All The Wrong Reasons”, all the chorus can muster is an “oh, oh.” At that juncture in the past, Petty would have let loose a yip and a howl.
When he does rock out, on “Makin’ Some Noise”, he references back to his younger days, which doesn’t say much about the present.
So we’re left with an artist who has (temporarily) run out of anger and run out of ideas. Into the breach has stepped pop peddler and Wilbury pal Lynne, who produced and co-wrote six songs with Petty and two others with Petty and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell.
Lynne’s idea of a cool pop song is billowing Beatlesque melodies topped with my-guitar-gently-weeps guitar breaks.
The result is a soft, safe, tame, manageable LA snooze without any of the sly, dangerous edges Petty once parlayed into a tough if smooth-as-glass style all his own.
“Into The Great Wide Open” should have stayed in hiding. (★★½)