Tom Petty Returns
By Patrick MacDonald
The Seattle Times — Thursday, April 15, 1999
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have come roaring back with “Echo” (Warner Bros.), one of the best albums in the band’s nearly quarter-century career. The first studio release from Petty and the Heartbreakers since the disappointing 1996 soundtrack for “She’s the One,” its 15 cuts show Petty back in top form as a songwriter and singer, and the Heartbreakers tighter than ever.
Although some cuts are a little too familiar, with Petty resorting to tried-and-true formulas, most of the songs reflect a revitalized, confident, feisty Petty, full of swagger, energy and humor.
“Free Girl Now,” already a hit single, is the kind of fist-pumping, hard-driving rock song audiences love. It’s bound to be in the set list when Petty and the Heartbreakers crisscross the country this summer on a big arena tour, which is sure to play here. “About to Give Out” is another rousing rocker, also destined to energize concertgoers.
The 15-song disc opens with one of Petty’s most confident lyrics, “Room at the Top,” in which he’s sitting on top of the world, with a woman who loves him and “over a thousand in the bank,” pleased with all he surveys. His over-the-top vocal on the following cut, the ballad “Counting on You,” telegraphs that he may be reliable, familiar old Tom Petty, but he’s still got plenty of sass and energy, and lots to say.
“Swingin’,” with its funny references to some of Petty’s heroes, such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Sonny Liston, is smart and clever. “Echo,” the title tune, is a well-crafted, dramatic ballad about the blues.
Petty the defiant survivor shines through on “No More,” in which he declares that he won’t do anything “if it ain’t real.” In the energetic “Won’t Last Long,” he says he’s down, but not for long. “Billy the Kid” and “This One’s for Me” also deal with his pride and resilience. How does he do it? Just listen to “Rhino Skin.”
The Heartbreakers sound better than ever, especially Mike Campbell on guitars (he also sings “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” sounding almost as good as Petty) and Benmont Tench on keyboards.
Last month Petty and the Heartbreakers played a seven-night stand at the Fillmore in San Francisco, performing more than two hours a night, and garnered ecstatic reviews. The summer tour is going to be huge.