Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | The Last DJ (Warner Bros.)
By Robert Wilonsky
Dallas Observer — October 3, 2002
Tom Petty’s as pissed as a millionaire gets, meaning you’d best take this (ahem) concept album about rock-and-roll corruption with a grain of salt the size of Mike Campbell. What happens when this album, financed by a multinational, gets airplay? Will it be considered victory or surrender, ironic or just inevitable? Because what you’ll find here is hardly an act of insurrection, the clarion call of the revolutionary out to gut the mutts on his way to storming the castle; let’s talk when he starts paying for the sessions out of his own back pocket, when he starts funding his own tours and returning his own phone calls instead of using the outside PR man as a shield. Besides, strip off the words and you’re left with TP and the HB tried and true and then some–the same ol’ same ol’ from a man and a band who confuse “new” with “most recent”; you own this record and have since, oh, 1986. Still, better populist rock than pop rock, right? Admire the anger; revel in the vitriol. It’s not that Petty’s wrong; never has been, save for that anti-doper anthem that somehow failed to alienate the fan base (I know–they were too stoned to notice). Right, right, there’s plenty to be pissed at: Radio stations hire consultants, “celebrate mediocrity” and turn their jocks into whores only too happy to take money from labels. Concert tickets cost way too much, and bands are delighted to sell their songs and souls to lite-beer commercials (“Money Becomes King”). Label execs are little more than svengalis eager to shape some hot young thing into the Next Big Thing (“Some angel whore/Who can learn a guitar lick/Hey, that’s what I call music”) in the name of corporate contentment (“Joe,” which should have been titled “Randy Newman”). Ours has become a vacant and complacent culture that has rendered our youths little more than characters in a violent video game (“When a Kid Goes Bad,” “Lost Children”). Yup, dude–it all sucks and only gets worse from here, and what’s a poor rock star to do about it except sing about it and hope critics write about it so people will buy it so the label can pay for it, till the vicious cycle starts all over again after he gets done touring Afghanistan and handing over the proceeds to musicians’ health-care trust funds. Did I mention it sounds like every other Tom Petty record? Well, it does.