Like Wildflowers a few years earlier, Echo is the sound of an artist not exactly known for his vulnerability slowing down and letting the pain sink in. Petty was skeptical of Echo in later years: He once dismissed the track “Room at the Top” as among the most depressing songs in rock history. And he was so concerned about what lessons his fans might take from his late-1990s heroin addiction that the whole period was effectively scrubbed from the band’s history for years. But much like Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks—another record written in the fog of divorce—the messiness of Echo is part of its appeal. Petty was a rock songwriter, one who’d made his name by compressing big feelings into small, simple forms. Echo was, compared to the rest of the Heartbreakers’ catalog, volatile and indirect: The most upbeat songs (“Swingin’,” “Free Girl Now,” “About to Give Out”) find glory in their own defeat; the saddest ones (“Room at the Top,” “One More Day, One More Night,” “Echo”) are also the most comforting. To listeners comfortable with a little ugliness and irony in their rock music, the contradictions here were likely familiar; for Petty fans, Echo was initially considered hard to parse. Looking back, the rewards are clear: In putting his heart on his sleeve, Petty made a space for listeners to explore feelings that might otherwise be tough to confront in the court of the day-to-day. They call it “pop” because it pops. But art takes time.

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