Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tom Petty 8: Full Moon Fever

The simpler approach to Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) prompted Petty to go even more basic by recording his next album all by himself in Mike Campbell’s garage. Before too long he’d invited various bandmates to contribute here and there, and let the proceedings be guided by a new figure on the scene. The resulting Full Moon Fever was a phenomenal success, finally making him a household name.
It was impossible to escape this album in the summer of ‘89. There was definitely a fresh, driving-with-the-windows-open appeal to “Free Fallin’” the first twelve times you heard it, “I Won’t Back Down” remains a statement of purpose, and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” still works as an insistent rocker. “Yer So Bad” and the incredibly faithful cover of the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better” inject a nice ‘60s feel. “Love Is A Long Road” and “A Face In The Crowd” mix up the sound too.
Up through “Depending On You”, “The Apartment Song”, and the extremely gentle “Alright For Now”, it could pass for a Heartbreakers album. Things run out of steam by the end of the second side: “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own” contributes nothing except telling us his middle name (spoiler alert: it’s Earl) and “Zombie Zoo” is just plain annoying. Of course, the notion of album sides wasn’t as noticeable for CD buyers, who found their own secret message hidden between tracks five and six, where the rest of us had to turn over either our records or tapes to keep listening.
Beyond the radio saturation, albeit highly deserved, what grates today the most is the sound. Outside of Mike, Howie Epstein sings on two tracks, and Benmont Tench adds piano to another; Stan Lynch was obvious in his absence. Most of the instrumental touches come from co-producer Jeff Lynne, fresh off his success with George Harrison and Roy Orbison, and of course the Traveling Wilburys itself was a tangent from these sessions. In addition to being one of the luckiest guys in the business, this man has the uncanny ability to make some of the greatest rock drummers—including but not limited to Ringo and Jim Keltner—sound like the same anonymous machine. After a while that unrelenting “boom-thwack” can wear on one’s nerves. But if you’d come this far in the story, it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because Full Moon Fever sold millions, made Tom the star he would henceforth be, and is ingrained in constant radio rotation today. If you’re not sick of it yet, it’s another good one when the mood strikes.

Tom Petty Full Moon Fever (1989)—3


  1. Hey, Wardo-

    What would have been the Everybody’s Dummy rating of Full Moon Fever in 1989? Your second paragraph seems to speak to the album away from the sound, which I would anticipate being how the review would have read twenty years ago, but would you have rated it higher than 3 on your scale at that time? I ask because sledgehammer to the permed head of Jeff Lynne leads me to believe you’ve changed your opinion on the album over time, and the “About the Ratings” section says that change can occur.

    Oh, and Jeff Lynne has had that sledgehammer coming to him for an album or two so I’m glad you finally whacked him with it. Have you ever taken a sledgehammer to a discarded toilet in a garbage dump? Let me tell you something, my friend, destroying a toilet with a sledgehammer makes all your worries melt away if only for a little while. You haven’t done that? Then my advice would be to continue pounding away on Jeff Lynne with that sledgehammer because he deserves it and I happen to know you enjoy doing it.

    Let thy Wilbury be done.


  2. Thinking back, I'm guessing it would have been a 3½, with the slightest chance of reaching 4 in the summer, before going back to 3½ by year's end. Luckily for me, that was a full year for decent albums.

  3. Yes, time and overexposure have tempered my enthusiasm for this one, but not by much. It does really belong in the top tier of Petty albums. The first half contains some of his most outstanding material. I do agree that it loses a bit of momentum after “Feel A Whole Lot Better”, but the second half is enjoyable enough. I even like “Zombie Zoo”, which a lot of people dismiss. It’s hilarious. I also enjoy the funky B-side “Down the Line”, but I understand why it was left off – the horns would have sounded out of place on the album. I can understand why some people thought Jeff Lynne overproduced the album, but I think he integrated 80’s sounds better here than Petty and Campbell had on “Let Me Up”. The album still deserves it’s classic status, and half of the songs would still be concert staples over the next two or three tours.