Records: Petty’s ‘Full Moon’ shines
Review by Jim Higgins
The Milwaukee Sentinel — June 23, 1989
Tom Petty’s fury is legendary. He’s the rocker who punched out a wall and couldn’t play guitar for a long time after that. In a fight with his record label, Petty once threatened to title an album “$8.98.”
But it sounds like he was in a fairly mellow state of mind when he recorded “Full Moon Fever” (MCA) with producers and pals Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell. Petty’s rebellious soul and gritty rock ‘n’ roll heart are definitely in gear, but they’re leavened pleasantly by many lighthearted lyrics and by Lynne’s wall-of-fun production.
“I Won’t Back Down,” the record’s first single and one of its more substantial tunes, embodies Petty’s existential stance. He sounds like an angry teenager who would let the world pound him into the earth before he caves in. Come to think of it, that’s the existential stance of rock ‘n’ roll itself.
While Petty’s been guilty of echoing the Byrds for years, his cover of Gene Clark’s “Feel a Whole Lot Better” is the only evidence a jury would ever need to convict him. He evokes the feeling of that classic band in a way that transcends mere mimicry.
While this is officially a solo album, guitarist Campbell of Petty’s backup band, The Heartbreakers, plays a major role. The dreamy lyrics, surging guitar fills and power-packed closing guitar solo of “Running Down a Dream” makes it a great highway anthem.
Lynne, the driving force behind ELO and a partner with Petty in the Traveling Wilburys, adds the hand claps, harmony vocals and synthesized stuff that are his trademarks. His heavy production touch has drowned other acts, but it doesn’t dampen Petty.
“Full Moon Fever” rocks hard enough and bites often enough to please serious listeners. It’s enough fun for the casual ones. In the fragmented world of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, it’s one of the few records that truly offers something for everyone.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will play 7:30 p.m. July 9 at the Marcus Amphitheater as part of Summerfest.