The Petty Archives

Balanced Attack
By Eric C. Danton
Houston Chronicle - Sunday, October 20, 2002

On 'DJ,' Petty blends caustic lyrics with 'unhurried' music
"The Last DJ" | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Warner Bros. | Grade: B
TOM Petty has never been much for lyrical crusades. Even when he sang of wanting to be king on the Wildflowers album in 1994, he limited his laundry list of royal perquisites to getting his own way and finding a "feeling of peace at the end of the day."

Maybe his sense of moral outrage has simply built up over the years, but Petty has a few pointed things to say on his new album, The Last DJ. There's the title track, for starters, on which the normally laid-back singer lashes out in fairly stark terms at the "corporatization" of radio.

"There goes your freedom of choice/There goes the last human voice," he sings in the refrain.

He's equally peeved on the cynical Money Becomes King, and he fires a well-aimed broadside at music industry suits on Joe, which satirizes the mind-set of a rapacious corporate executive searching for the next big money- making act. "You get to be famous/I get to be rich," Petty sings.

Unfortunately, Petty's lyrical passion outpaces the music, resulting in a few songs that sound as if the Heartbreakers cobbled the music together around Petty's strident vocals. It's a shame to fetter the likes of pianist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell that way.

But the band shows its talent on When a Kid Goes Bad and on a few Petty ballads. Have Love Will Travel and the transcendent Like a Diamond don't quite push the album to the level of, say, Wildflowers, but they help The Last DJ achieve balance between Petty's newly barbed lyrical themes and the band's unhurried musical approach.