The Music Box's #21 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2006, Volume 13, #7
Written by John Metzger
Considering the success that he has enjoyed over the course of his career, it might seem strange that Tom Petty would have anything at all about which to complain. Yet, the past decade has been an especially difficult one for the aging rock star. One love abandoned him, while the other turned into a corrupt, corporate machine. On his 2002 endeavor The Last DJ, all of Petty’s frustration and anger came pouring out. Consequently, the collection was more than just a tirade against the music industry. It also addressed the sense of betrayal that had infiltrated all corners of his life.
Throughout his latest endeavor Highway Companion, Petty continues to reflect upon his experiences. Having had four more years to process his disappointments, however, he now approaches them from a more mature perspective. As a result, instead of heeding the call of the open road, he ponders its allure, and he sees the freedom that a nomadic lifestyle provides as a trap that leads only to disconnection and heartache. Highway Companion, then, is a heartfelt meditation that is filled with dark shadows, dashed dreams, and rain-soaked disillusion.
Although all of the characters that dot Highway Companion’s landscape remain on the run, Petty pokes and prods at them, highlighting both their ennui and their loneliness. In This Old Town, for example, he looks around the city of Los Angeles as a piano echoes a familiar refrain plucked from Phantom Planet’s California, but all he sees is the corrosive isolation that surrounds him. Specific enough to be about Petty’s return from the depths of depression, yet vague enough to be a condemnation of the state of Western society, Highway Companion gains resonance from its quest to find substantive identity and emotional connection. It is made all the more urgent by its repeated references to the rapid passage of time as well as the fleetingness of life.
Although Highway Companion never strays far from the sounds that Petty has explored over the course of his past few albums, it is impeccably crafted, playfully delivered, and decidedly eclectic. Hints of The Byrds, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison (to name a few of his influences) lurk in the background, and thankfully, Jeff Lynne’s frequently heavy-handed production technique is pushed to the fringes where it is permitted to color, rather than to smother, the songs. From the anxious, pulsing blues of Saving Grace to the groovy, R&B-meets-Bay-area-rock flavors of Jack; from the ominously hypnotic Turn This Car Around to the Riders on the Storm-imbued weariness of Night Driver; and from the jangly, West Coast pop of Flirting with Time to the gentle contentment of Square One, Petty has concocted another mature, but no less vital effort that succeeds in keeping the rust at bay.
Of Further Interest...
Highway Companion is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box