The Petty Archives

Reviews and Previews: Our Two Cents On The Latest Releases
Review by Mike Capel
The Oswegonian - Friday, October 18, 2002

The Last DJ | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | ★★★★ Excellent
Pushing into his mid-fifties, Tom Petty has hit rock's complacency years, when most artists (see the Rolling Stones) start rehashing old hits into spotty live albums and greatest hits packages. But for Petty and the Heartbreakers, America's most resilient garage band, grandfather-hood doesn't play into strapping on their axes and manning their battle stations.

The Last DJ, Petty's thirteenth studio album, is his kiss-off call to arms for those about to rock. Over twelve tracks, Petty disassembles the music industry establishment that he knows all too well. He has battled a personal fight with record executives for lower album prices and free downloadable music during different stages of his career. Judging from the bitter kick of the opening title track ("there goes your freedom of choice/there goes the last human voice"), he and the Heartbreakers prove that their venom has only gotten deadlier with age.

"Joe" finds Petty at his snarling best, his voice (like Bob Dylan's) as much a tool of revenge as the Heartbreakers pounding blues riff beat. "He gets to be famous/I get to be rich," Petty howls, shaking a long pointed finger at greedy record execs. Petty prays for the "Lost Children" being force-fed soulless music by the major labels, as the Heartbreakers steam with slow-funk riffing behind him.

Petty hasn't forgotten the value of a good tune, mixing his message with trademark sing-along three-chord romps and softer near-ballads. Settling somewhere between Dylan's weathered cynicism and Springsteen's anthemic idealism, Petty puts a human touch on quiet numbers like "Blue Sunday," and the twinkling "Dreamville." "You and Me" skimps on the Record Industry as Evil Empire theme, instead exuding full grown puppy love sentiment minus the irony.

"The Man Who Loves Woman" channels the spirit of Pet Sounds, complete with impeccable harmonizing from the Heartbreakers, with an extra nod to the invaluable (and original) Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell.

The Last DJ probably won't bring Petty the commercial success he once had; Americans like art less honest. But Petty is playing to "those bad girls" and "the boys who play rock and roll," not the Billboard Hot 10. Tip your sideways hat punk rockers; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers might be one of the last human voices you hear for a while.