Reviews: Growing Old Gracefully...Without Losing the Fire
Galway Advertiser - June 14, 1989
Rock and Roll isn't very old. Go back beyond the mid-50's and you enter a totally different world. And one of the problems it has yet to come to terms with is how an old Rocker can grow old gracefully, without losing the passion and power that inspires this kind of music. Four albums released recently highlight this problem - Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, Van Morrison's Avalon Sunset, Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt , and Jackson Browne's World in Motion.
Elvis avoided solving the problem by turning into a rather pathetic "lounge lizard" and semi-recluse. The late Roy Orbison, by joining with the "Wilbury's", kept playing essentially the same kind of music he'd always played, a fact borne out by his posthumously released album, any song of which might have been released at any time over the last twenty years. All excellent, but not at all different from what he's always done. Bob Dylan, perhaps the only genius Rock has ever produced, has received almost consistently bad reviews for the last decade because people seem to resent the tact that he keeps moving on, trying new things - some successful, some unsuccessful. But even on his last two albums, which were slatted by the critics, there are songs which are as good or better than anything he did when the critics loved him. "Brownsville Girl" - the Dylan/Sam Shepherd collaboration, is one of the best things he's ever done, and the mysterious "Silveo" likewise.
Petty, Morrison, McCartney, and Browne have all been around for a while now. They no longer sell in the numbers they used to, but they're still making great music. And what's more, each has created a distinctive sound which is as good, in its own way, as anything they did in their heydays. They seem to have managed to grow older, while still remaining true to their Rock roots. And along the way, they've helped to create a new dimension to Rock - more mature, more questing, more committed.
Petty's Full Moon Fever is the best thing he's ever done. Petty's voice is very distinctive -- some people can't stand it, but I confess I like it a lot. On the beautiful "Free Fallin'," he tells a simple, classic Rock and Roll story of disappointed love, bit the combination of lilting guitars and great backing harmonies lifts it into another dimension altogether. Production work by Jeff Lynne, who, as one of the "Wilburys," created the excellent sound on that album, turns many of the tracks into clean, rocking songs. I'm thinking of "A Face in the Crowd" and the almost folky "Alright for Now." Mike Campbell, one of the Heartbreakers, contributes some of the blistering guitar solos, especially on great songs like "Running Down a Dream" and "The Apartment Song." A bonus is Petty's cover of the Byrd's "Feel a Whole Lot Better," where he sounds more like Roger McGuinn than McGuinn does himself!