Ever since 1996’s She’s the One, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been searching for it. Occasional singles like “Walls,” “Free Girl Now,” and “Swingin’” were cut from the same magic mine from which the band had been digging since the Am Jam days of the seventies. They were afraid to do it on Echo, and too close-minded to do it on The Last DJ. Perhaps the freedom of another solo record and the recent reunion of Mudcrutch opened up the doors, but Tom Petty has pushed the Heartbreakers to their pinnacle on Mojo.
For the first time since Wildflowers, Tom Petty actually sounds like he is enjoying what he’s doing. His vocals on “Candy” are playful and bluesy, and his ferocious growl on “I Should Have Known It” drops to a whisper within a split second. He’s a storyteller on “Running Man’s Bible” and “Trip to Pirate’s Cove,” a folk bluesman through a bullet mic on “US 41,” a country warbler on “No Reason to Cry,” and even a Rastafarian on “Don’t Pull Me Over.” Somehow, it all works. Mike Campbell was given the green light by Petty to really step up, and it is noticeable on nearly every track. His licks are as sharp as a damned switchblade. The rest of the band smolders as well, especially on the rhythm and blues workouts like “Takin’ My Time” and “Lover’s Touch.”
For the first time in the history of the band, there is no sign of a single on this record. Mojo is a fifteen song, one-hour jam of reckless abandon. “Jefferson Jericho Blues” lays down the groove that never lets up until the last notes of “Good Enough.” None of the songs are standout triumphs. There is no “American Girl” or “Even the Losers.” Mojo is the sound of a band that has absolutely nothing left to prove but still wants to get together and jam. Dylan’s Basement Tapes and the Stones’ Exile on Main Street both come to mind when listening to this record. They’re albums that weren’t meant to make a statement or a lasting impact on culture. They were made because the artists had a passion to get together and jam it. More times than not, these records end up making a statement and do leave a lasting impact on culture because they’re pure examples of what making music is all about.
Grade: A -
Links: Tom Petty's Official Website