Tom Petty – Highway Companion (2006)
purchase this album (Amazon)
The waiting is the hardest part. Tom Petty knows it â€” he said so in 1981 â€” and his fans know it too, because they’ve been waiting for him to put together a consistently good album for over a decade.
Yes indeed, Wildflowers celebrates its twelfth birthday this year, and the years since its release have not been kind. Mix and match the best cuts from She’s the One, Echo, and The Last DJ, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid record; wade through each of them individually, however, and you’ve got yourself some heavy slogging to do.
Now comes Highway Companion, and all the attendant “It’s his best since ______!!!” hoopla that flares up whenever a wandering greybeard like Petty resurfaces. Don’t believe the hype. Companion isn’t bad â€” not by a long shot â€” but it loses most of its steam before it’s halfway through, and is stuffed with more of the wan, edgeless ballads that have harpooned every Petty album in recent memory. Jeff Lynne is back in the producer’s chair, which is fine; his heavy top end and fondness for Rickenbackers remains undiminished, and even if he isn’t as ideal a choice as, say, Rick Rubin, he does a better job here than he did on Into the Great Wide Open.
It’s still a pleasure to hear Petty’s leathery croak, and when he’s on (as with the lovely “Square One” [download] and chimey, shuffling “Down South” [download]), he still hits his targets more satisfyingly than many â€” perhaps most â€” songwriters of his generation. But as an album artist, Petty appears to be permanently out of gas; whether it’s that he just doesn’t have as much to say as he once did or that he’s forgotten how to say it, you’re better off cherrypicking with iTunes than purchasing Companion outright.