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Off The Record: Powerful songwriting enhanced by studio treats
Review by Jim Zebora
Record-Journal — Sunday, June 4, 1989
Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever | MCA Records
At first listen, producer Jeff Lynne sounds like a good match for the music of Tom Petty. On this first solo outing for the Heartbreaker’s guitar-playing leader, Lynne opens up both his voice and the instrumental tracks, relieving Petty of his too-frequent bouts with musical constipation.
But all is not as good as it could be. Just like so many others he has produced, from Dave Edmunds to the Traveling Wilburys, Petty ends up sounding like a member of Lynne’s erstwhile Electric Light Orchestra taking only a tentative step on his own.
That quibble aside, Full Moon Fever also turns out to be one of the best albums Petty has ever recorded. It is packed with powerful songwriting — much of it done in conjunction with Lynne — recorded clear as a bell, and filled with delicious studio treats like the superbly layered chorus of “I Won’t Back Down,” which has already garnered considerable radio and video play.
Other songs such as “Love Is A Long Road,” co-written with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, who also shared some of the production duties, emerge as hard-hitting pleas for salvation through human relationships.
“I guess I can only hope,” it concludes, “For maybe one more chance — To try and save my soul…”
Other songs find what they’re looking for, but only within a context of superficiality. Witness “Yer So Bad”:
“My sister got lucky, married a yuppie/Took him for all he was worth/Now she’s a swinger, dating a singer/I can’t decide which is worse/But not me baby, I’ve got you to save me…”
For the most part, however, Petty does have a consistent voice in his songs. He’s able to see a world where love and mutual dependence are a salvation from loneliness, even if they are occasionally fraught with danger.
Petty, on Full Moon Fever, is into taking such risks, as he does with stepping away from his band for a moment of solo introspection. There remain some pitfalls, but by and large it’s a successful move. B plus