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POP MUSIC | Record Rack

Petty Proves Competence Doesn't Lead to Boredom

*** TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS; "Echo"; Warner Bros.

April 11, 1999|ELYSA GARDNER

If Petty is one of the most predictable artists around, he's also among the most reliable. On his new album (due in stores Tuesday), the 46-year-old singer-songwriter and his longtime band serve up taut, guitar-driven songs that are as instantly familiar, utterly unsurprising and easily satisfying as a good steak dinner.

That's not to say that this music could or should be dismissed as a guilty pleasure. Petty and the Heartbreakers have always deftly combined a lyrical folk-pop grace with a lean, raw potency worthy of any alternative rocker's admiration. That duality continues in buoyant, muscular numbers such as "Counting on You" and "About to Give Out," such jangling nuggets as "This One's for Me" and "Accused of Love," and the tender ballad "Lonesome Sundown."

Petty has also maintained his flair for lyrics that poke wry fun at life's and love's foibles while celebrating their possibilities. From the gritty, witty "Swingin' " to the pining "Room at the Top" to the delicately resolute "No More," these songs unabashedly endorse freedom, faith and stubborn fortitude.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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