A few weeks ago Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers revealed they would be releasing a new album called Mojo this spring. Somewhat amazingly, this fulfilled the final of three major projects that Tom Petty had listed wanting to do four years ago. At the time I was skeptical he would actually put together a reunion with his pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch, but then he did, and that he would put out a major live compilation, but he has, and now the third of his goals has come to fruition, a Heartbreakers album on which his illustrious bandmates will have the opportunity to shine.
Long time Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert goers and bootleg collectors know that this band loves to jam. Their studio output before the 2000s always focused on radio-ready, excess-free punchy pop rock, but for decades they have indulged in numerous extended versions of their radio hits and played special jam songs that have never been released in studio versions to this day. When I discovered their live music and their instrumental skills revealed therein is when they really became for a spell my one all consuming musical obsession. And despite some of the album’s atrocious lyrics, I really enjoy The Last DJ for the way it in many ways premieres the Heartbreakers as an in-studio guitar heroics band. And I loved “Crystal River”, 2008’s song in which Mudcrutch let loose with a terrific ambling jam song.
So when Tom’s been talking with relish about the prospects of a real Heartbreakers album, his first since 2002’s The Last DJ, I have been expecting this to be the big jam album. 2006’s solo project, the incredibly catchy and consistent Highway Companion, was a throwback to the pure pop Petty of his 1989 classic solo debut Full Moon Fever. But I had a feeling he was thinking of his studio reunion with the Heartbreakers not as an opportunity to reprise the Heartbreakers’ apex of 1979’s Damn The Torpedos but rather to make an album devoted to songs which resemble their live jam sessions more than anything prior. And that’s precisely what the first cut delivers.
Except that–instead of showcasing the Heartbreakers’ own unique sound and abilities as a jam band, the song is an embarrassing knock off of Zeppelin (and some say the Beatles but I don’t yet hear that). It’s pretty disappointing. Below is the new song, “Good Enough” followed by its forebear “Since I’ve Been Loving You” followed by what is, in my wide experience of their live music, the band’s most incredible performance ever—the extended version of “Refugee” they played on the 1991 tour and captured best for their Take The Highway video. In my humble opinion, it’s better than anything Zeppelin ever did and it manages to be pure Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Here’s hoping the rest of Mojo captures more of that magic than tries to ape Zeppelin’s, in spite of its quease-inducing title threatening an over the hill act going out of its way to show it’s got its “mojo” by showing it can keep up with all those fresh ’70s bands with their impressive 21st Century “mojo”.