1991, Music

Into the Great Wide Open (1991) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The Jeff Lynne infestation of Petty’s Full Moon Fever has been allowed to fester and now infects the entire band. I understand this was a big hit, and I grew up with the two biggest songs here too, but this is a particularly polished version of the Heartbreakers, that is relatively unrecognizable to the band of the late ’70s.

I think there’s a good argument to be made that Petty got a lot better as a songwriter as he aged (like most songwriters). Certainly as a matter of craft I think he improved. Though the singles here are clearly the best songs, there are a number of other songs no here that are among Petty’s better songs. There are also less great ones, of course, but it’s a decent set of songs for him.

The music is pure late ’80s/’90s Heartbreakers: folky pop rock, with clean vocals, lots of acoustic guitars, and the odd bluesy fill or solo from Campbell. There are a ton of instruments on many of these songs and one wonders why, given the kind of songs they are and what the band was able to with fewer instruments when they were produced by Jimmy Iovine.

My big gripe is the production, as it was with Full Moon Fever. I get that Lynne and Petty bonded over a love of many of the same bands they grew up with, I do understand that. But the Heartbreakers had at least a little bit of an edge in the ’70s and early ’80s. And when they did weird things with Dave Stewart well, at least those were weird. But Jeff Lynne just wants everything to sound perfect. And I don’t really get how that suits these songs, or most of Tom Petty’s songs. (The only time I’ve ever liked the Lynne-style on a Petty song is on “Walls” which, funnily enough, was not produced by Jeff Lynne.)


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