When you’ve been pumping out crowd-pleasing music for 30 years, you start to get the hang of it. Petty’s latest effort, sans Heartbreakers, is surefire proof. True to the album’s title, nearly every song talks about leaving somewhere, going somewhere, or being stuck somewhere.
The opening track, “Saving Grace,” which is getting lots of airplay these days, alludes to hiding from life by hitting the road and includes wonderfully gritty guitar work with train-chugging chords. “Down South” talks about heading to “see my daddy’s mistress” and recreating a new persona in a different world. Using vivid imagery, this is one of the few Petty songs that discusses the final destination, not merely the journey. Meanwhile, the only thing missing on the song “Turn This Car Around” is screeching tires. There’s such a quiet, understated threat in this song; Tom is going back so there’s no point in arguing. By far the strongest track, “Big Weekend” fully anticipates fun-to-be-had, advising: “Kick up the dust…if you don’t run, you rust.” An ideal bar tune, full of raucous enthusiasm.
As a lyricist, Petty is pure genius with his simplicity. With lines such as “Keeps broken dreams to fix up and sell” in the sad tune “Damaged by Love,” or “Always had more dogs than bones” in the imagined clean slate of “Square One,” Petty is a master craftsman. As a musician, Petty seemingly gains momentum with age; he performed most of the backing instrumentation on this album. If he bothered to sit down for 10 minutes, someone might call him a legend.