By Parry Gettelman
Orlando Sentinel — June 4, 1989
(★★★★) Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever (MCA): Some artists need years between albums and then months in the studio – and what do you get but two hit singles and a lot of filler. Tom Petty went three years between albums in the early ’80s, but he’s on a hot streak now – in 1988, supposedly his year off, he worked on two solid, successful records.
First, there was the Traveling Wilburys collaboration with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Now, after a delay due to the success of the Wilburys, Petty has released Full Moon Fever, his first solo album. And there’s not a weak song on either side.
Some of the solo album actually predates the Wilburys. Petty began hanging around in neighbor Jeff Lynne’s garage after the Heartbreakers came off their last tour and Petty’s bandmates dispersed to work on various side projects. Petty wrote and recorded some songs with Lynne, who had produced George Harrison’s comeback album. Then Petty and Lynne wound up becoming Wilburys together and finally got around to finishing Full Moon Fever.
Fever has a lot in common with the Wilburys album. It’s co-produced by Lynne, Petty and Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell, and Lynne keeps the same acoustic rhythm guitar foundation that made the Wilburys’ Volume I such a rootsy outing. Lynne also co-wrote seven of the songs. Guests on the album include two more Wilburys, Harrison (acoustic guitar and background vocals on the single ”I Won’t Back Down”) and Orbison (background vocals on ”Zombie Zoo”).
Fever also offers plenty of Heartbreakers touches. It rocks like a Heartbreakers record, thanks in part to Mike Campbell, who plays electric-guitar solos, mandolin, bass, slide guitar and keyboards. And besides co-producing, Campbell co-wrote two songs.
The Heartbreakers’ touring percussionist, Phil Jones, plays drums. Bass player Howie Epstein sings some background vocals, and Benmont Tench plays piano on one song.
The album’s first song, ”Free Fallin’,” is an easy, floating lead-in. Petty sings it as if he were still a careless adolescent, breaking hearts out of laziness, but there’s a note of regret in the melody. That is followed by the first single, ”I Won’t Back Down” – vintage Petty, with a stubborn chorus and a biting Campbell solo.
The first side is impressive, concluding with a high-flying solo on ”Runnin’ Down a Dream.” But Petty really makes his case on Side 2. He starts with a lovely, faithful cover of the Byrds’ ”Feel a Whole Lot Better” (in case you wondered why the Rickenbacker guitar logo turns up so prominently on the album cover and the record sleeve). Petty’s weird, nasal voice somehow makes the harmonies sound all the prettier.
He then kicks into his own jangly, Byrds-like ”Yer So Bad” and a classic verse: ”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.”
From there, the record doesn’t let up – there are gorgeous harmonies on ”Depending on You” and ”Alright for Now” and great Buddy Holly rhythms on ”Apartment Song” and ”A Mind With a Heart of Its Own.” For a closer, Petty offers ”Zombie Zoo,” a silly yet scathing tune about teen-age nightclub-scene queens in LA.
You could find fault with the record if you really tried. Lynne’s production is sometimes a little too clean, and there’s nothing earthshaking or innovative going on. But when was the last time you picked up an album this solid: tough, pretty, good rockin’, no filler?