Skipping Some Beats

Petty's first studio album with the Heartbreakers since Into The Great Wide Open (1991).

I don't know about you, but I've never had even the slightest

inclination to program CDs to play only my favorite tracks. Sure, I

might punch in a particular song at any given moment -- and I've done my

share of search and destroy, er, I mean search and skip, with the old

remote control to move matters along -- but I choose to believe that

track placements on almost all albums are by design and not accident. I

mean, do you ever find the best songs on an average album buried 8th or

9th? Given, especially, current attention spans -- hey, come back here!

-- only fools and superstars try and get away with that sort of thing.

Which brings us to Tom Petty, who's spent the last 20 years blissfully

hanging out at the intersection of fool and superstar. Not much traffic

around there, true (John Mellencamp's about the only one who passes

through on a regular basis), but an interesting place to reside

nonetheless. Half the time he's running on instinct -- a couple of

jangly chords, a few "hey, baby"s and "Uh-oh's" at chorus time -- and

when he's on that side of the road, he is (to quote Jackson Browne) a

veritable "happy idiot" capable of savanting whole slabs of unmitigated,

inspirational rock 'n' roll.

However, as he notes on the terrific "Won't Last Long"

(RealAudio excerpt) -- track 8 out of 15 here -- "Half my brain is so far away" -- an allusion, no doubt, to

that "I'm a big star, I must have big thoughts" side of Petty's musical

personality. It's that lobe that's responsible for such

belly-button-lint-filled navel contemplations as "Room at the Top" (5

minutes), title track "Echo" (6 1/2 minutes) and "One More Day, One More

Night" (5 1/2 minutes). That these three

longest-songs-on-the-album-brain-drains are strategically placed,

respectively, in the 1, 7, and 15 slots clearly demonstrates Petty's

willfulness to make sure we don't miss such grand statements as "I've

got a room at the top of the world -- and I'm not coming down" (ugh) and

the notion that both people in a failing relationship ultimately feel

the "same sad echo" (ugh squared).

So as I said earlier, even though I'm not a big fan of re-arranging

track lists, I'm going to break with tradition here and suggest that you

program Echo in order to get the best songs all in a row. Start

with track 2, "Counting on You"

(RealAudio excerpt) -- "Breakdown" revisited -- then No. 3,

"Free Girl Now"

(RealAudio excerpt) -- Dylan by way of the Hombres and the Syndicate of

Sound -- followed by No. 8, "Won't Last Long" (so he hasn't forgotten

"Listen to Her Heart"!); No. 10, "I Don't Wanna Fight" (Mike Campbell

wrote and sang this one and it's the most gloriously idiotic thing I've

heard by a major group since, oh, probably the Clash's "Should I Stay or

Should I Go?," right down to the "Louie, Louie" guitar solo -- Sonics

version, of course); No. 11, "This One's For Me" (we'll give Petty his

one deep thought; besides, it sounds nice and Byrdsy); and No. 13,

"About to Give Out" (highlight: great slophouse piano solo by Benmont Tench).

Yes, yes, I know. I've boiled this 15-cut collection down to just six

songs and reduced it from 62 minutes to just over 20. To which I say:

Art may be long, but life is short. Your move.