By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Sunday, May 21, 1989
Full Moon Fever | Tom Petty | MCA
Tom Petty’s first post-Heartbreakers solo album is a friendly, open look at the songwriter inside the man.
Of course, “solo” is a matter of semantics. Three of his four longtime Heartbreakers – Howie Epstein, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench – appear periodically throughout the LP, and Petty is quick to maintain that the partnership still lives. But rather than pegging the thrust of his songs to an ensemble, Petty here is shaping the instrumentation around the song, many of which seem to have been written with acoustic guitar and embellished from there, revealing an up-close look at the melodies and lyrics rattling through his brain.
As such, this doesn’t rock out as hard as Heartbreakers’ material. But neither is it self-conscious. It’s pure contemporary songmanship without contemporary gimmicks or cliches – not exactly a masterpiece but still compelling.
Petty’s music has always been emotionally cool but lyrically hot. Here, he’s defiant as ever, with hometown Los Angeles providing a backdrop on such titles as “Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’, The Apartment Song” and “A Mind With A Heart of its Own”. Love Is A Long Road kicks off with a Who-ish power chord (Won’t Get Fooled Again); the gorgeous “A Face In The Crowd” is shot through with a skin-crawling slide guitar riff; and “Zombie Zoo” is a campy look at L.A. night life.
This is an album that wears well through the strength of its song craft. You know – melody and lyrics, so rare in today’s metronomic pop music field. It must be a fever. (4 stars)