As you know, I am not the biggest fan of “Wildflowers“, Tom Petty’s second solo album. I have always felt that he could only take the pastoral element so far, and that the rockers were jaded. That album did, however, set the scene for one of his finest works with the Heartbreakers, 1999’s “Echo”, an album that was to sound like the truest solo offering of his whole career – yes, even more than “Full Moon Fever“, “Wildflowers” and the forthcoming “Highway Companion”. If anything, that “solo” feel was the indirect result of the passing of some of his friends, and the direct consequence of his own divorce.
I feel I must mention that “Echo” was not the first album that Petty released with the Heartbreakers after “Wildflowers“. He did actually bring the boys around for a soundtrack album that certainly renewed their energies. That was the “She’s The One” OST, and while I did never consider it a canonical album (and I actually actively dislike it) I’m the first to admit it did energize the band. Because cuts like “Won’t Last Long” and “About To Give Out” on “Echo” could never have sounded as fresh as they did without that soundtrack, nor songs like “Accused Of Love” and “This One’s For Me” sound so joyous and frolicsome.
Still, “Echo” will always be remembered for the catharsis of songs like “Room At The Top” (where the nature and the inexorable downfall of forced forgetfulness are explored), and the two final tracks, “Rhino Skin” and “One More Day, One More Night”. “Rhino Skin” is a cry of disgustingness at the cruelty of life, and “One More Day, One More Night” is a song of resignation in which I like to read between the lines and find a certain determination to carry on. It’s placement on the album is certainly impeccable, especially when we pitch it against the opening “Room At The Top”. That is something about the album: how well structured it is. Songs which are not that pivotal like “Swinging” and Mike Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” (in which he also happens to take the lead) don’t get in the way at all. And the title track (one of the most Dylanesque compositions that Petty ever penned) is placed right in the middle. The song (which is absolutely gorgeous) is too long to be either at the beginning or at the end. It could only work there, especially as the track that follows it is “Won’t Last Long”, a song which is pure make-believe, and which is what the album needs after the expurgation of its title track.
The cuts that deal with Petty’s separation more forthrightly are situated mostly at the beginning, and they are not really my favorite songs on the album. They include “Free Girl Now” and “Lonesome Sundown”, and while I have never thought too much of either I have to admit that “Free Girl Now” has Petty sounding as pissed as he ever did. What is interesting is how well he controls and channels that anger (something he could not do on the next album, “The Last DJ”). That ability to take negativity and turn it into something that could instill positive action on the listener is what wins me over in the end. Despite the circumstances that surrounded it, “Echo” managed to sound victorious instead of vanquished. And along with “Into The Great Wide Open” and “Full Moon Fever“, this is the one album of Petty I reach out for the most often.