As teenagers, my friends and I spent our Saturday nights loitering in parking lots. While we waited for adventure to strike, Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” rattled the frames of more parked cars than anything not written by Marshall Mathers. The song goes nowhere; the singer would go anywhere. He wants to run with us tonight on a moonlight ride because, as he’s said before, he’s tired of himself, and tired of this town. Highway Companion, Petty’s 14th album, is the collection of road tunes its title suggests, and though those roads take him home, there isn’t an “Oh hell yes” in sight. Ten songs in, he puts it bluntly: “This old town is a sad affair.” Regardless, this rarely works as the heart-heavy traveling music Petty has in mind; while he flees or revisits dark corners in every song, Petty sings like he has nothing at stake. This breezy album is great for a cookout, but anyone who’s ever tried to go home again will tell you it doesn’t ring true. Pleasant but slight, it flirts with revelations it can’t quite kiss. But it’s appropriate that the stakes feel highest on “Big Weekend,” the one that sounds most like a kid in a parking lot, doing his best to shout it: “I need a big weekend/Kick up the dust/I need a big weekend/If you don’t run, you rust.” Here comes my girl?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2006