Petty Laughs Last on 'Full Moon Fever'
By Chris Willman
The Los Angeles Times - April 23, 1989
On his own, the Wilbury delivers sad stories, ridiculous detail
TOM PETTY | "Full Moon Fever." | MCA | ★★★
Here it is, folks: "The Traveling Wilburys, Volume Two." (a.k.a. Tom Petty's first so-called solo album, sans the full-time support of his Heartbreakers.) It's not so much the cast--though Jeff Lynne carries a quite audible presence as co-producer, and both George Harrison and the late Roy Orbison show up among the support crew--as the attitude.
Petty contributed the jokiest material to the Wilburys' already wit-riddled platter, and "Full Moon Fever" is similarly, subtly light of lyric. Not to imply that Petty has turned class clown on us; only to reinforce that here he carries on the Travelers' trenchant penchant for telling a sad story with ridiculously trivial bits of detail.
The ironic, bittersweet opening track, "Free Fallin'," is a most telling tale as Petty doth protest too much about how he doesn't miss the sweet young thing he deserted back in Reseda. "All the vampires walkin' through the Valley / Move west down Ventura Boulevard," he sings, and as he gets to that last phrase, a lush Lynne chorale of voices comes in to intone the name of that street of dreams, as if reinforcing an essential detail in a mythic country-Western song.
The rest of this free-form collection is nearly as nifty, from the first single, "I Won't Back Down" (similar to the Heartbreakers' halting, synth-heavy "You Got Lucky"), to the knock-off version of the Byrds' "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," to the closing "Zombie Zoo" (a tribute to pale-faced trendiness). You'll find far less experimentation here than on, say, "Southern Accents," but Petty didn't make this album to break ground. He just wants to kick up a little dirt.