CD Reviews: Tom Petty attacks corporate music
The Free Lance-Star — October 17, 2002
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | “The Last DJ” | Warner Bros.
There’s a famous scene in the 1976 film classic “Network” in which the late Peter Finch has had enough and sounds “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” “Network” satirized a struggling TV network that would air anything to get ratings.
With the music industry subbing for television, Tom Petty is Peter Finch on his group’s bitterly fed-up and tense new CD, “The Last DJ.”
On the title track, Petty mourns the sorry state of soulless corporate radio in which the individual voice is lost.
“There goes the last DJ / Who plays what he wants to play / And says what he wants to say / There goes your freedom of choice / There goes the last human voice.”
“Money Becomes King” traces a once-idealistic rocker corrupted by the system. “Johnny rock that Golden Circle/And all those VIPs/And that music that had freed us/Became a tired routine.”
And on “Joe,” sung in the sneering voice of a slimy record company executive, he gets his digs in on an unnamed label (Jive Records comes to mind) and lip synchers with a penchant for revealing outfits (Britney Spears, Christiana Aguilera and J.Lo seem the all-too-obvious subjects). “He gets to be famous/I get to be rich…/Bring me a girl/They’re akways the best/You put ’em on stage/And you have them undress/Some angel whore/Who can learn a guitar lick/Hey, that’s what I call music.”
Petty makes a hell of a pop music critic. Though he’s a wealthy Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, he manages to avoid hypocrisy. Petty won’t allow “golden circle” seating and its exorbitant $300 tickets at his concerts; he withheld his 1981 album, “Hard Promises,” from his former label until they agreed not to price it $1 above the then-accepted list price; and he refuses to license his songs for commercials.
A lot of thought went into this CD’s lyrics, but tackling the greedy music business isn’t a new concept. In 1970, the Kinks did it with “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneyground, Part One”; two years earlier, The Who did the same on “The Who Sell Out.” Lindsey Buckingham (who harmonizes on this CD’s throwaway, “The Man Who Loves Woman”) did likewise 10 years ago on “Out of the Cradle.”
None of these records rank among those artists’ best-sellers and it’s unlikely “The Last DJ” will reach the masses the way other Petty discs like “Damn the Torpedoes” or “Full Moon Fever” did. The concerns, though valid, are probably too insider-related, and the public is buying the soulless music that Petty complains about.
Also, Petty’s new music isn’t his best. The melodies and arrangements borrowed from the Beatles, the Byrds, Bob Dylan an the Stones, and, while the title track is immediately catchy and harmonious, it takes a few listens for the other tunes to take hold.