The Petty Archives

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: "The Last DJ"
By Gabe Estill
The Western Courier - October 18, 2002

As consumers bathe in the afterglow of television’s "American Idol" series and its spawn of manufactured talent, a more intuitive music listener need only look for true inspiration in a wise old man.

Tom Petty might be the closest thing anyone has had to idolize in quite a long time.

In an era that is becoming more and more rooted in style over substance and commercial viability over musical integrity, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ latest effort "The Last DJ" serves as a beacon of light in a tunnel filled with commercialization, mediocrity and Scott Stapp.

Perpetuating his longstanding integrity and rock idealism, Petty amplifies his dissatisfaction with the music industry not by slapping the hand that feeds him, but reminding the fatcats that one can’t sell the true soul of rock and roll, the fire that still burns with passion in headphones, bedrooms and basements throughout America.

In "The Last DJ," Petty gives listeners his nearest example of a concept album. Here we see several stories whose characters and principles revolve around the refusal to compromise one’s integrity amidst escalating funds, beer endorsements, MTV and countless record executives.

Petty is not saying that money is necessarily evil, but when it outweighs the music … well, then we have run into very empty times.

The stories range from character-driven pieces like the title track, "Money Becomes King" and "Joe" to more thematic works like "Dreamville," "Lost Children" and "When a Kid Goes Bad" to the more simplistic sounds of "You and Me" and "Can’t Stop the Sun."

In recent reviews, the angry pieces garner the most attention and they seem to be the loudest message on the record.

In "Money Becomes King" Petty delivers a chilling overview:

"Well I ain’t sure how it happened/And I don’t know exactly when/But everything got bigger/And the rules began to bend/And the TV taught the people/How to get their hair to shine/And how sweet life can be/If you keep a tight behind/And they raised the cost of living/And how could we have known/They’d double the price of tickets/To go see Johnny’s show."

While much of his generation wanes in reunion tours, beer commercials and subpar studio efforts, Petty shines with the same formula that made him so great 25 years ago, but he does it with an intensity that refuses to be silenced with age.

On "The Last DJ," he reminds us why he is the conscience of rock and roll.

Grade: A