Tom Petty's massive vault-raiding effort to put together last year's The Live Anthology established a clear path to Mojo, a bluesy, jammy, slower and less-catchy record for Petty, but one that spotlights his Heartbreakers as the exceptionally talented musicians they've always been.
Typically restrained in the studio, the band stretches and flexes in the live setting, which Mojo captures well. The opening bluesy stomp of "Jefferson Jericho Blues" sets the agenda, and a band with a history of playing decidedly non-flashy rock gets the time to work in flourishes every step of the way.
Fans have long been willing to give full credit for the Heartbreakers' success to the band—particularly guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench—as much as to Petty, and with Mojo, Petty seems to be on a mission to make sure everyone else does, too.
At the core of every great Petty song is tightly controlled tunefulness, the ability to come up with a simple and unforgettable melody or riff. He's subdued that instinct on Mojo, for the better in the case of most songs, but it still feels weird to absorb a Petty album that lacks a surefire hit.
That makes Mojo an achievement of a different sort for Petty. If he'd made a career out of recording similar-sounding albums, he'd have the following and radio play of a band like Widespread Panic. But 30 years into his career, a little meandering doesn't hurt at all, especially when the Heartbreakers are so dialed in.