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Tom Petty bounces back with Echo
By Tim Glenn
The Augustana Observer — Friday, April 30, 1999
Few truly great rock bands have had the talent and longevity to last twenty years or more, most imploding due to fiery egos and internal conflicts (most regrettably The Beatles, more recently Guns n’ Roses). The ones that do survive, though, are mighty indeed, i.e. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, U2, and a few others. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers find themselves in select company, especially considering that rock is currently being left behind in the charts in favor of disco and teen pop and is, as always, in danger of being pronounced dead.
Echo, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ fourteenth and latest release (including a live disc and a greatest hits album, excluding the box-set Playback from ’95, and considering Petty’s solo lineup caries little from the Breakers) is a prime example of their airy rock/blues/folk sound.
Love is a theme not lacking on Echo, with the poppy “Accused of Love” and the screamer “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” sung by largely underrated lead guitar Mike Campbell. Even more fundamentally, Echo resounds with loyalty (“Lonesome Sundown”), freedom (“Free Girl Now”), and a defiant resilience (“Room at the Top”).
None of these themes are anything new on a Petty record (consider Full Moon Fever’s “I Won’t Back Down” and hits like “Into the Great Wide Open” and “Free Fallin'”), but never before have they been so overwhelming. At the core, as always, Petty exudes enough self-reliance to make Ralph Waldo Emerson blush.
Repeatedly the listener is presented with the image of one picking himself up off the ground, refusing out of principle to grasp the proffered hand. In the elegant title track, we are told “I don’t seem to trust anyone no more/it could be faith, I’m just not sure.” No matter what it is, it is a dependence the speaker doesn’t need: “You let me down/you dropped the ball… and I don’t want to mean anything to you.”
In the rocking “Billy the Kid,” complete with organ, Petty drawls, “I went down hard, like Billy the Kid/Yeah, I went down hard, but I got up again.” The album refuses to deviate from harsh reality, as in “No More”: “I Ain’t gonna do it, if it ain’t real.” Nothing of worth comes easy within the context of the album, as in life, and one needs “rhino skin, if you’re gonna pretend you’re not hurt by this world.” Things are never a total loss with Petty though, as in “Lonesome Sundown” we are told, “redemption comes to those who wait/forgiveness is the key.”
Echo is a beautiful album, a very fine embodiment of American rock, expressing an independence and self-reliance needed to survive, not only in life but in rock n’ roll as well: “This one’s for me/Not for anyone else/I need it you see/I threw all I had into the sea/Now I want a little back.”
Our falling is inevitable; Echo brilliantly informs us that there is something to be said for going down “Swingin’,” and leaves us to meet that challenge: “I’m down, but it won’t last long.” Perhaps the same could be said for the brand of timeless rock n’ roll that Petty and his Heartbreakers are masters of.