By Richard Defendorf
Orlando Sentinel — April 7, 1985
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Southern Accents (MCA-5486): Erase whatever preconceptions you’ve been harboring about this band. Petty has been doing some shopping during the two years he’s been off the tour circuit (and recovering from a hand injury) and the stuff he brings home doesn’t always resemble the Byrds-rock goodies of the Heartbreakers’ past.
Though it contains some of Petty’s best lyrics and most adventuresome work, Accents is diffuse and less well-realized than Damn the Torpedoes, Hard Promises and Long After Dark. Accordingly, Southern Accents might not capture as many mainstream hearts as its predecessors.
It sounds here like the Gainesville-born Petty is speaking in at least three accents: that of Roger McGuinn and the Byrds (and the old Heartbreakers); that of the South, where Petty lived before he moved to Los Angeles; and that of the blues-rocking New Jersey shore. It’s an intriguing, weird mix.
Accents opens with Petty unleashing Southern-style pride, frustration and stubbornness on the passionate rocker ”Rebel.” He does it again later in a peaceful country-blues setting on the title track (sample lyrics: ”There’s a Southern accent, where I come from/The young ‘uns call it country/The Yankees call it dumb/I got my own way of talkin’/But everything is done, with a Southern accent/Where I come from.”) ”Spike,” a taunting, Southern-style sneer at a man wearing a dog collar (”Boys, we gotta man with a dog collar on/You think we oughta throw ol’ Spike a bone?”), goes down as one of the best written and arranged songs on the record.
What is surprising, and a little bit perplexing, is that Petty and co- composer David A. Stewart have decided to add horns and some rock/funk phrasings to the menu. When you shimmy into the full-out rock and funk of ”It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” and the up-tempo ”Make It Better (Forget About Me),” you start thinking Asbury Park instead of Gainesville. Horns blare, the rhythm section pumps and Petty gets into it.
The Heartbreaker sound of old emerges on ”Dogs on the Run” and, except for the buzzing sitar and the bass-cello flourishes in the background, it remains pretty much intact on the single ”Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
Other accents: The vocal harmonies and lightly honking sax parts on ”Mary’s New Car” are reminiscent of those used by Steely Dan; Petty comes as close as he’ll ever come to sounding like Randy Newman on the medium-tempo blues ballad ”The Best of Everything.”
Where’s Petty headed? Beats me. But no one can accuse him of creative inertia.