Into the Great Wide Open
Though one was a Heartbreakers album and the other wasn’t, 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open felt more or less like a companion piece to Petty’s 1989 solo hit Full Moon Fever. Both were produced by Jeff Lynne, who gives the band’s rootsy, naturalistic sound an airbrushed sheen—a contrast that sowed some internal discord among band members, some of whom preferred live takes to Lynne’s brick-by-brick approach. But Lynne’s studied studio wizardry trumped all, resulting in an album that become one of Petty’s biggest critical and commercial hits—making the Heartbreakers one of the few groups to release multiplatinum albums across three decades. Much like Full Moon Fever, the perfectly polished and calibrated Into the Great Wide Open sounds less like rock ’n’ roll than a stylized simulation. Not that the album lacks soul: The group could still perform anthems about hope (“Kings Highway,” “Learning to Fly”), bitterness (“All Or Nothin’”), and bleakness (“Out In the Cold”) with romantic conviction. But Into the Great Wide Open also finds the band members, in their own catchy way, playing around with meta-explorations of American myths: There are songs about Hollywood casualties (“Into the Great Wide Open”), dueling desperados (“Two Gunslingers”), and, just in case you forgot where they were coming from, a track about the simple salvation of rock ’n’ roll itself (“Makin’ Some Noise”). Petty would soon scale back and strip down his sound, but Into the Great Wide Open found him pushing himself in the studio in an all-or-nothin’ attempt at rock-and-roll dominance.