The Petty Archives

Music: Petty releases album, goes on tour
Review by Benjamin Freed
The Justice - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Tom Petty | The Last DJ | Warner Brothers | Grade: B+
To the excitement of their longtime fans, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers welcome their latest release, "The Last DJ," with a U.S. tour that culminates in Boston on Saturday, Dec. 14. The concert promises to be an event of good, solid rock from a living legend, as the album foretells.

On the initial listen of the album, Petty sounds a little like a cranky, aging rock star -- which he is, to some extent -- but there is much more to this album.

While reminiscing about the better days of rock 'n' roll, Petty also takes the time to point out today's corporate bastardization of music. The title track starts out with the lyrics, "Well, you can't turn him into a company man / You can't turn him into a whore," in a song about a disc jockey who refuses to buckle into corporate pressure and eventually winds up on a weak station out of Mexico.

Much of the album contains his brand of romanticism and cynicism that signifies classic Heartbreakers music.

"Money Becomes King" attacks the high prices and weak product of corporate rock, going after the "golden circle" crowds that sit close to the stage and enjoy luxurious perks, but could not care less about the music. The song also assaults corporate sponsorship and product endorsement of music acts today.

Petty, who in 26 years has never accepted a corporate sponsor or given any of his songs for commercials, closes this track with "All the music gave me / Was a craving for lite beer." "Joe," a harder tune, brutally mocks the life of a record executive, who cares more about making a profit through some pretty face but doesn't care about the quality of the music.

While most of the openly cynical songs come in the first half of this 12-track album, the nostalgia still rings throughout. "Dreamville" and "Blue Sunday" remember a different, more romantic time. If anything, these songs are about classic rock growing older and more valuable. This theme comes through in the music as well as the lyrics. Guitarist Mike Campbell shines again on this album, especially with a particularly poignant solo on "Like a Diamond."

All of the musicians are equally impressive. Master keyboardist Benmont Tench skillfully employs his expertise on piano, keyboard and electric keyboards over the entire album and Steve Ferrone's drumming changes frequently from subdued to aggressive, and always at appropriate times.

Petty, himself an excellent guitarist, plays many instruments on this album, including bass, piano and a ukulele. Orchestral backgrounds are heard occasionally, and "The Man Who Loves Women," an incredibly upbeat tune, features well-placed background vocals by Petty's contemporary, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.

The final track, "Can't Stop the Sun," starts out quietly, but quickly grows more aggressive in a firm statement of the band's longevity and the permanence of classic rock. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are bringing their tried and true sounds into a corporate millennium instead of adapting for today.