Records Review: Phases and Stages
By Christopher Gray
The Austin Chronicle - November 15, 2002
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers | The Last DJ | (Warner Bros.) | ★★★½
It's no doubt a coincidence that lead-off/title track "The Last DJ" opens as a dead ringer for Leonard Cohen's "The Future." Instead of irony-dripping requests for crack and anal sex, Tom Petty just wants a radio station with some imagination, man (what a hippie). But like Cohen, Costello, and Bowie, steady Petty is a long way from his AARP card. His commentaries on the bottom-line-obsessed music business on the first four tracks are well-meaning, if sanctimonious; "Joe" castigates a fat-cat CEO with a dissonant guitar lick even more scabrous than the lyrics. The witty "Money Becomes King" revisits Johnny from "Into the Great Wide Open" as a middle-aged shill for lite beer who "rocks that golden circle." Once Petty gets down off his soapbox, he and the Heartbreakers get on with the real business at hand. With longtime collaborators Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench providing their usual AM gold, even throwaways "When a Kid Goes Bad" and "You and Me" radiate hummable warmth. And when it's good, it's really good: "Like a Diamond" contains one of Petty's most memorable choruses; enlisting Lindsey Buckingham for backup vocals on the comically burlesque "The Man Who Loves Women" is a stroke of genius; and the full-bodied valedictory "Have Love Will Travel" deserves a spot on heaven's jukebox. There will always be a place for irascible codgers like Petty. Maybe not atop the charts, but definitely in the hearts of the faithful.