Album Reviews: Highway Companion by Tom PettyTom Petty is inextricably linked with The Heartbreakers, but has made some of the best music of his career when he's dropped the band from the credits and gone solo. Unfortunately, Highway Companion doesn't carry on the lineage of his previous solo records, Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers. It's an album that is inspired by and built for the Great American Road Trip, but Petty spends a lot of time sounding like a classic rocker who's low on gas and opting for cruise control.
Like almost all road trips, it starts out with plenty of promise. Opener "Saving Grace" is a Petty-by-numbers single, an obvious radio cut, but still manages to satisfy. Petty's unflappable sneer remains in fine form, and the arrangement is rollicking and determined. This is followed with the Wildflowers-y acoustic ballad "Square One," which made an earlier appearance in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. Petty sings this sort of material very effectively, delivering simple lines like "It took a long time to get back here" with the sort of world-weary gravitas that makes them work.
Much of what follows, though, is passable but forgettable, the sort of predictable rockers that seem destined for cutout bins. As with any Petty record, there are some catchy refrains and familiar riffs -- sometimes too familiar, as in "Turn This Car Around," which cribs "Into The Great Wide Open" -- but it's offset by a lack of urgency and adventure. The latter, especially, is not a good sign for an album presumably about adventure; there are game attempts to talk about daddy's mistress and strange sights along the road, but none of it connects like "Square One."
"Big Weekend" is lively and aimed straight at the heart of loverboys living for the weekend -- by no means an endangered species -- but it's hard to imagine opting for it over similarly propulsive Petty classics like "Running Down a Dream." It wouldn't be fair to draw comparisons to the highlights of such a storied catalog, except for the fact that the new songs so obviously are direct descendents -- and retreads. Highway Companion may be good for a few downloads, but it's not worth buckling in for the whole trip. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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