The Michigan Review — December 1989

Record Reviews: The Most Excellent Albums of 1989
By John J. Miller
The Michigan Review — December 1989

Tom Petty | Full Moon Fever | MCA Records
Tom Petty without the Heartbreakers? Absolutely unthinkable! Or so one would have exclaimed several years ago. But then came the troubled Southern Accents sessions, rumored to have nearly separated the long-time bandmates. Since then, Petty entertained rumors of a desire to record without the Heartbreakers. In 1988, he performed with the Traveling Wilburys, beginning a temporary hiatus in his work with the Heartbreakers, and in the spring of this year he released his long-awaited solo album, Full Moon Fever.

Perhaps due to his work with the Wilburys, Petty discovered a newborn popularity unequaled since 1979’s landmark Damn the Torpedoes. A trio of strong, radio-ready hits bolstered this resurgence: “I Won’t Back Down,” a straightforward rocker about determination in the face of conflict; “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a musical tornado fueled by a killer guitar riff; and “Free Fallin’,” an acoustic piece about confused, despairing liberation following the end of a relationship.

Fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne’s assistance with production helps Petty’s music take a refreshing turn. But Petty does not betray his musical heritage either; three of the four other Heartbreakers make appearances, including guitarist Mike Campbell’s production services, instrumental performances, and songwriting contributions. Full Moon Fever is clearly one of the year’s best albums, and remarkably enough, it also managed to sell quite a few copies.

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