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Soundings: When Petty goes it alone, be brings plenty of company
By Thor Christensen
The Milwaukee Journal — Tuesday, April 25, 1989
Most bandleaders who decide to make a solo album wouldn’t think of hiring their group to play on t. It kind of defeats the purpose.
But that’s the strange route Tom Petty takes on his maiden solo effort, “Full Moon Fever.” Oddly enough, the trick works.
Relying heavily on Heartbreakers lead guitarist Mike Campbell (with cameos from band mates Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein), Petty keeps “Full Moon Fever” within the general parameters of the Heartbreakers sound. But by calling it a solo album, Petty gets to stretch out, and the results are more loose and playful than the Heartbreakers’ recent LPs. “Full Moon Fever” is like “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. One,” only better. Fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne plays a big role here, producing the album, co-writing five songs, playing guitars and keyboards, and singing. Like all records Lynne produces, “Full Moon Fever” winds up sounding a bit like Electric Light Orchestra, chock full of dreamy keyboards and precise acoustic guitars bouncing against colorless drums. But even Lynne’s slick production can’t squelch Petty’s roaming spirit.
“Love Is Like a Long Road,” fueled by Campbell’s Who-like fanfare opening, is the hardest Petty has rocked in years. The acoustic shuffle “Yer So Bad” updates the Kinks’ “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” while “The Apartment Song” recalls Buddy Holly, and “A Mind With a Heart Of Its Own” borrows its beat from Bo Diddley. Petty and Campbell even tackle an early influence, the Byrds, with a version of Gene Clark’s lovely “Feel a Whole Lot Better.”
That’s a lot of cue-taking for one album. But the record never has the studied feel of an artist paying tribute to his musical roots. Without the Heartbreakers’ legacy to think about, Petty takes a wonderful, free-wheeling romp with “Full Moon Fever.”