Tom Petty and the Heartbeakers
By Parry Gettelman
Orlando Sentinel — July 28, 1991
★★★ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Into the Great Wide Open (MCA): This is more a follow-up to Tom Petty’s 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever, than to the Heartbreakers’ Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), released in 1987. And actually, it’s a bit of a follow-up to 1990’s Armchair Theater – producer Jeff Lynne’s solo album.
Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell have secondary producing credits on Into the Great Wide Open. However, Lynne’s stylistic influence is even more obvious than on Full Moon Fever or the two Traveling Wilburys albums. That’s all very well if you’re a huge fan of ELO, Lynne’s old outfit. Heartbreakers fans are likely to be a mite disappointed.
Campbell occasionally gets to let loose with one of his fluid yet rugged solos. But for the most part, the guitars are chimey and almost un-guitarlike, mimicking ELO’s layered strings. Electric Light Orchestral waves of backing vocals often wash up against Petty’s voice, rounding off some of its rough edges. Keyboardist Benmont Tench also is submerged.
Drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein seem a bit demoralized by the lush surroundings – except on such rockers as “Out in the Cold” and “Makin’ Some Noise” and the hard-hitting “All or Nothin’,” when you can almost hear them shouting with relief. Campbell, too, sounds as if he’s having a lot more fun on “Makin’ Some Noise” than on the sluggish “Into the Great Wide Open” or the ELO-ish “Learning to Fly,” a low-key “Free Falling” sequel.
Petty and Lynne co-wrote the majority of songs, including “Learning to Fly,” the title track, the rather facile “The Dark of the Sun” (“We will stand as one/ in the dark of the sun”) and “All the Wrong Reasons,” another “Free Falling” sequel. They do come up with two strong songs, “Out in the Cold” and the lovely “Built to Last” (with its “Stand by Me” groove).
The two songs Petty wrote on his own, “Too Good to Be True” and “You and I Will Meet Again,” are pleasant but not as strong as his Full Moon Fever work. The best songs on the album are Petty-Lynne-Campbell collaborations. “Makin’ Some Noise” sounds like the Heartbreakers of old, and “All or Nothin’ ” has a bitterness that cuts right through the thick production. Petty’s vocal has that familiar sneer, and Campbell and Lynch sound as if they’re letting all their frustrations out on this track.
Lynne’s work on the Wilburys’ albums and on Petty’s solo album was awfully good – when his pop-orchestral tendencies were restrained. However, he seems to have been given free rein here and was apparently in the midst of a massive midlife ELO flashback. The production doesn’t serve the Heartbreakers well, and I’m starting to worry about the next Wilburys album already.