After throwing one song alter another off his 1989 album, Full Moon Fever, and up the charts, Petty probably could have flicked on the cruise control and knocked off a couple of similar commercial gems.
You won't find any obvious chart choices here. But fear not, Petty-ites. This is one of TP's most deliciously understated and thoughtful records.
He enlists fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne to cowrite on eight tracks, and the collaboration continues to serve them both. Lynne coaxes out Petty's poppier side, while Petty knows how to give a song (such as the chugging "Out in the Cold") a good swift kick.
The reuniting of all the Heartbreakers makes Petty a more formidable presence too. In the all-time-great-band debate, the Heartbreakers are on a par with Springsteen's E Streeters; guitarist Mike Campbell, in particular, gets sharper with each record.
Never averse to speaking his mind, Petty still has plenty to say. In the funny and thankfully subtle antiviolence ode "Two Gunslingers," he describes fast guns who decide at the last minute not to draw as a curious crowd gathers: "And a stranger told his Mrs./ 'That's the last one of these gunfights/ You're ever gonna drag me to.' "
On the album's last track. "Built to Last," Petty and Lynne whip up a hollow-sounding bass line set to a "50s-ish backbeat. It's one example of Petty's real gift. Even when he's not writing radio-ready hits, his songs—simple, honest, direct—show he has few equals. (MCA)