While his recorded output has slowed in the new millennium — he hasn’t released a studio album with his long-time band the Heartbreakers in eight years, though he did give us a strong solo disc in 2006 (“Highway Companion”) and the decades-delayed debut by his original group Mudcrutch in 2008 — Tom Petty has long been on a very short list of classic-rock heroes such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan who rarely could be accused of resting on their laurels, phoning it in by issuing new product as a mere excuse to go out and rake in the cash by playing the greatest hits in the arenas one more time.
That is, unfortunately, until now.
Dominated by bluesy, stretched-out jams largely devoid of melodic hooks or engaging lyrics, “Mojo” is the laziest album of Petty’s career. He’s tried to justify the absence of heavy lifting by positioning these 15 tracks as a showcase for the Heartbreakers — whose guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench remain two of the greatest sidemen in rock history — and saying that the group tried to record as live and in-the-moment as possible. “It’s blues-based. Some of the tunes are longer, more jammy kind of music. A couple of tracks really sound like the Allman Brothers — not the songs but the atmosphere of the band,” he told Rolling Stone.
But the sad truth is that on meandering tunes such as “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” “U.S. 41,” and “Good Enough,” Petty, who’s made a trademark of sounding disarmingly laid back, for once comes off as just bored and disengaged. This is especially disappointing given the fire of his last effort with the Heartbreakers, “The Last DJ” (2002), which unleashed a barrage of songs harshly critiquing the music industry in particular and rampant capitalism in general, including “Money Becomes King,” “Joe,” “Can’t Stop the Sun,” and, infamously, “The Last DJ,” widely perceived at the time as a take-no-prisoners assault on that monopolistic, corporate-rock radio behemoth, Clear Channel.
Now, even though Petty is making “Mojo” available as a free download for anyone who buys a ticket to his summer concert tour, he’s undertaking that jaunt with the monopolistic, newly merged concert-industry behemoth Ticketmaster/Live Nation, which splintered off from Clear Channel a few years ago, and he’s charging a top ticket price of $136.92 when he plays the United Center on June 17. (That is, unless you opt for the special “Mojo Package” priced at $300 per person — and Ticketmaster doesn’t even explain what perks you get for that absurd amount.)
Famously a champion of treating his fans well and battling for lower album prices, it certainly seems as if Petty has given up the fight and decided to go with the new corporate flow. And maybe we could even live with that — if only his new music was as strong as the best of what he’s given us in his storied past. But these half-baked jams don’t even come close.
Though I’ve caught bits and pieces of it in passing, thanks to some loved ones who are fans, the hit musical comedy “Glee” isn’t a phenomenon I’ve wasted much brain power consider — it strikes me as a lot better than “American Idol,” but, really, what is that saying?
However, one of my favorite TV critics, Mary McNamara of The Los Angeles Times, made a strong argument in a recent piece that the show is the long-overdue revenge of her/my generation (tail end of the Baby Boom and cusp of Gen X) against our older Boomer parents who are forever dismissing our music as a vastly inferior echo of the greatness of Beatles/Woodstock/Hendrix and all the rest of that endlessly hyped ’60s peace and love hoo-ha.
Mind you, my list of the greatest music of the ’80s — the Minutemen, the Replacements, Husker Du, Naked Raygun, etc. — is a lot different than McNamara’s — Duran Duran, the Go-Go’s, Stray Cats, Wham!, Men Without Hats — and I’m not sure I’d want any of my heroes or heroines turning up on the choir’s set list (though it is fun to think of evil cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) grooving hard to Steve Albini and Big Black). Nevertheless, it’s a fun read.