Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers have been making music for quite some time and even after their thirty-year anniversary tour in 2006, they continue to make new music. Their latest album, Mojo, is a heavily blues-based collection of original tunes that lacks a lot of youthful vitality but possesses a mature musical sensibility that could probably only come from a band that has been playing for thirty years, starting when rock and roll was still a brash expression of rebellion for the teenage generation. Now, rock and roll is completely accepted by mainstream society. It only occasionally gets political anymore, and musical styles of all sorts have proliferated in the youth-oriented, popular market that rock music once dominated. Given that aspect of the music’s history, this album is another step of growth for a band and a singer/songwriter who have both come a long way together.
The jam-like musical format of most of the songs necessitates that a lot of musical decision-making happens amongst band members, and the band’s creativity and teamwork is easy to hear as solos build to climaxes and fills are shared and well executed. Without such tasteful and creative playing, the continuously repeated chord progressions that make-up most of the songs would wear quickly. Take “First Flash of Freedom”. The placid and mysterious soundscape that dominates the vast majority of the nearly seven minute song acts as an effective bed for the ensuing musical breaks featuring, among others, guitarist Mike Campbell and organist Benmont Tench. The players are just as important as the songwriter in this kind of musical environment.
The thing that’s not featured is Petty’s hit songwriting ability. There aren’t any standout tracks with catchy hooks or concise, clever arrangements. There is a lot of enjoyable music, great playing, and strong lyric writing, but it doesn’t sound like Petty and his Heartbreakers set out to add to their long list of karaoke favorites and radio hit singles with this album.
Petty’s strange storytelling and cool lyrics are still here. One standout worth noting is the melancholy ballad “No Reason To Cry”. Its poignant lyrics give the song’s titular refrain a double meaning, as a consolation spoken to someone who should stop crying, and as an admission that there’s no reason to cry but people cry anyways. “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove”, an existential story about traveling with a friend, is another notable lyric as it creates strong images of a thought-provokingly meaningless journey. “Something Good Coming” displays some of that maturity mentioned earlier in lyrics such as “I’m watching the water / I’m watching the coast / Suddenly I know what I want the most.” The subject matter of most of the album can be identified as an understated honesty towards life’s disappointments, joys, and hopes.
The music may not get everyone’s blood pumping with feelings of angst or great possibilities for the future, but maybe that would not be genuine coming from a group who accomplished all of that to a high degree earlier in their career. Mojo, whose title speaks of vitality, contains a genuine vain of heartfelt emotions, but it doesn’t demand your attention. It’s difficult to hear over the restrained, musical style of these seasoned musicians, but the honest emotion and musical depth is there.