Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

16Jun/103

Talkin’ Mojo

This week has been an important one for music fans, with the release of Mojo, the first new album of studio material from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in 8 years.  A week like this is one that's full of debate - is it good? does it suck?  What do you think?  These are not easy questions to answer and as crazy musical freakazoids, we listen, and we discuss.

Would you buy a used car from this man?

I guess it's been a couple of weeks since I heard the album, and when I first listened to it, it left me completely cold.  I was listening at work, in the background, and with 15 tracks, nothing jumped immediately to the surface.  Worse, it felt long and about 9 tracks into the album, I shut it off and moved on to something else.  I was bummed.  On the heels of The Live Anthology, which had such great potential to suck (hello, positive thinking!), but ended up being awesome, Mojo was a disappointing wet rag. (And how many people were waiting for a blues album from Petty?  That's always a slippery slope for any artist.)  Anticipation, deflated.  I read reviews from folks that shared various parts of how I was feeling about the album, but I also was reading reviews from people that I trust, elated with the album.  What was I missing?

The second listen brought better results - "First Flash of Freedom," which had been the lone bright spot during my initial listen, would be joined by a few more tracks that I deemed to be solid.  Certainly, there is plenty of Mike Campbell awesomeness on this album, and you've got Benmont, being Benmont - two guys that never ever let you down.  With each additional listen, Mojo was coming together more and more as an album to my ears.

Listening to the album tonight on the drive home, the final pieces fell into place.  Perhaps there should be a requirement that albums from folks like Tom Petty, are albums that demand in-car listening with the volume turned way up, to make that proper first impression.  Because really, listening to it at proper volume, Mojo suddenly became a different album.  It's still too long - I'd shave two tracks ("Jefferson Jericho Blues" and "Candy") from the first seven tracks, and already, it's a better listen.  Perhaps those are two of your favorites, but for me, they are two of the tracks in the first half of the album that feel contrived, while the other five feel like real songs that Petty and the Heartbreakers actually believe in.  Although there are longer tracks like "First Flash of Freedom," there are also shorter beauties like "No Reason To Cry," that I could easily listen to for much longer, but in the case of the latter, it terminates shortly before the three minute mark.  "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" is a typical Petty stroller, that ambles along for five minutes in dreamland - total bliss (Petty describes it musically as "a little short film").

According to this interview with Mike Ragogna, Petty says that he played 18 or 19 tracks for the label, before settling on the final 15 track sequence that makes up the album.  And "sequence" is an important word - listening to the album, you can definitely hear the time that they spent figuring out the proper sequence as you listen to the transition between tracks like "First Flash" and "Running Man's Bible."  I think that if they would have shaved Mojo down to a formatted sequence of 10 songs, chances are good that a move like that would have eliminated some of what feels like extra fat on this album.

I guess that Mojo is proof that first impressions aren't everything - as difficult as this was on the first pass, the songs on Mojo already hold up better for me than Highway Companion (2006), an album that I "enjoyed" almost immediately.  Petty's albums with the Heartbreakers albums for me have been a series of diminishing returns since Echo (1999) and The Last DJ (2002), with She's The One (1996) being the last Heartbreakers "album" that I really loved.  And about that Mudcrutch album - now that's an album that I feel was under-rated, and had it been labeled as an album of Petty and Heartbreakers material, it's possible that the collective minds of music fans (who missed it because of the Mudcrutch tag) might have melted.

As a band, Petty & The Heartbreakers certainly have nothing left to prove - something which I realized, watching the Classic Albums special for Damn The Torpedoes.  It's a true pleasure to listen to these gents make music, and while there might be a bit too much of it on this album for my taste, I'm grateful for the opportunity.  Now that I know what their "mojo" is all about, I'll be looking forward to July 20th, when the band will touch down for another Cleveland area visit at Blossom Music Center.

  • http://twitter.com/jukebox65 Stacy Stajcar

    That's pretty much how I feel. There's a couple of draggers in there that I'm sure I'll warm to. But it is an ALBUM and deserves to be listened to a few times to get the feel of it.

  • http://clevelandcrave.com Amy

    Great discussion of what it is like to overlook an album the first listen. Sometimes it is those car ride listens that opens it all up.

  • anonymous

    Pretty much every album that comes out, regardless of who it is, is the same for me: it always takes at LEAST three listens before the entire tapestry comes together as one cohesive piece of vinyl.

    Personally speaking, Mojo didn't take but one listen to know it was a fantastic record, but then listening to it a second time (about two hours in between listens) and it got even better. Now that I've heard it about ten times, I think it's one of Petty's strongest efforts, Heartbreakers or not by his side.