Merced Sun-Star — July 28, 1989

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Tom Petty: a heartbreaker no longer
By David Bauder
Merced Sun-Star — July 28, 1989

‘Full Moon Fever’ sounds like the Traveling Wilburys
Judging by his first solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” it seems Tom Petty’s heart is no longer with the Heartbreakers.

He’s a Wilbury now.

Brevity in lyrics and simplicity in music seems to be the lessons he’s taken from his tenure with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Full Moon Fever” can almost get an identical critical assessment as the Traveling Wilburys’ record: Both albums are filled with breezy “feel-good” songs that are essentially lightweight but sound terrific.

All his fellow Wilburys, save Bob Dylan, make appearances. Co-producer Jeff Lynne, who also had his hand in writing seven of the 12 songs, is the most prominent.

Petty’s laconic nature is occasionally funny, like on this perverse nursery rhyme from “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.”

On the majestic melody, “Free Fallin’,” Petty says more in a five-word chorus than many songwriters do in a whole song.

Like on Paul McCartney’s “My Brave Face,” the narrator’s joy at newfound freedom from a relationship is mixed with despair at his loss.

His cover of the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” is a dead ringer for Petty’s own “Listen to Her Heart.”

The tunes are all relatively conservative pop-rock fare, except for the grungy guitar of “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and the closing romp, “Zombie Zoo.”

Judging by the early sales figures, Petty’s Wilbury work has introduced him to an older generation of fans that might otherwise have suspiciously looked upon him.

He’s stripped his music to the essentials on “Full Moon Fever” to make that introduction that much easier.

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