Although the stripped-down, immediate production of She's the One was reminiscent of Wildflowers, Tom Petty's forays into Lindsey Buckingham-inspired pop turned out to be a passing thing, since Echo, his first full-fledged record with the Heartbreakers since 1991's Into the Great Wide Open, is an extension of Wildflowers, at least in terms of sound and feel. The weird thing is, Echo sounds like a sinewy band recording, but its sentiment makes it feel like a solo record. To be blunt, much of Echo feels like a by-product of Petty's divorce from his wife of over 20 years; even the intoxicating hard rock of "Free Girl Now" has a layer of sorrow and regret. That weary melancholy is the bond that keeps Echo together, bridging the gap between the ballads and the rockers, providing an emotional touchstone that makes the record more than just another Petty record. Then again, the music on Echo manages to sound like every other Petty album, yet it stays fresh. Petty, Mike Campbell, and Rick Rubin (along with some help from George Drakoulias) keep the spirit of Wildflowers alive by keeping the production uncluttered, direct, and muscular -- which just reveals what a strong, versatile band the Heartbreakers are. And while there are no surprises, Petty once again delivers an album that works as a whole while having several clear highlights -- which is a pretty neat trick, actually. At times, the disc feels a little long, but all the pieces work individually and illustrate that Petty is the rare rocker who knows how to mature gracefully. Although the album is spiked with sadness and regret, nothing on the album feels forced or self-conscious, either lyrically or musically -- and he is one of the few rockers of his generation that can make such a claim.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine