AOM Logo July 1999

Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD735 / MCA Music

Playing Time: 40:11

D. Malcolm Fairbrother

Cover Image

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have always been the quintessential American band, synthesizing all that was valid and elemental in garage rock, fusing this framework with punky, new-wave components, yet never losing sight of their native heartland in their instrumentation. Petty's vocals have always celebrated the essence of the nasal delivery of a Dylanesque singer-songwriter, while the band borrows harmonies from the British Invasion of a previous decade, not unlike their fellow compatriots, The Byrds. Yet, whereas most New Wave and Punk outfits rejected or ignored their psychedelic and folk-rock predecessors, Petty chose to embrace, embellish and extend the substance and style of those earlier works.

Full Moon Fever was his ninth release. This reviewer has always much preferred the previous release, Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), a robust and all-out rock and roll record that saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take a giant step away from more contemplative works such as Long After Dark, and Southern Accents, neither of which was much of a critical or commercial accomplishment. In between Let Me Up and Full Moon Fever came the stunning Traveling Wilburys Vol.1, a phenomenal collaboration with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and ELO's front man, Jeff Lynne. It is without a doubt this collaboration with legendary luminaries that refueled Petty's creative engine, and allowed him to see the value of sharing the recording process with musicians extrinsic to the Heartbreakers.

Although it was issued as a Petty solo album, Full Moon Fever is far from Heartbreakerless; guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, and Howie Epstein are along for the ride in varying degrees of frequency. The line-up is further augmented by fellow Wilburys, Harrison, Orbison, and Lynne, the latter taking on the lion's share of production work, assisted capably by Petty himself, and Mike Campbell. Other noteworthy musicians include drummer Jim Keltner, who provided most of the Wilbury tempos, and Fifties icon Del Shannon.

With the material on Full Moon Fever having been well received and frequently reviewed in other forums, a survey will suffice here. Six of the selections were co-written by Petty and Lynne, including the hits Free Fallin', with its wry commentary and earnest delivery, and I Won't Back Down, an anthem to triumphant determination. Also along for the ride is a near carbon copy remake of The Byrds' hit of the Sixties, Feel A Whole Lot Better, which replicates the jangled merging of folk and rock as it was at its exuberant inception. Anyone who listens with any degree of regularity to what passes today for quality FM radio, which uses a time-frame measured in minutes to confer classic status on fleetingly popular songs, would recognize the majority of the cuts on this work.

One would expect the production values on any product that appears to be marketed for the discerning audiophile to be pristine in delivery; Full Moon Fever does not disappoint in this regard. Nevertheless, the question begs to be raised: does a straight-ahead rock album profit from such high standards? A certain ruggedness in this kind of music adds to the flavour of the mix; as full and polished as this gold CD sounds, it need not be so. There are times when this listener swears that he can hear the producers splicing the tapes and sliding the levers as they mix the tracks.

One final word on the packaging of this major work - the jewel case is a high tech marvel! Its lift-and-lock mechanism replaces those irritatingly fragile plastic teeth in the center of the unit, and renders it virtually impossible that the CD be liberated in any other manner than that which the user expects. Imagine! For a few pennies more, we, the common purchasers of regular CDs at everyday prices, could celebrate such a luxury! The accompanying liner notes and artwork on the insert remain unchanged from the original.

Coda: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have just released a new CD entitled, Echo, now available at your local music emporium. It would be gratifying if it lived up to its title by echoing the quality of the music and production found in Full Moon Fever.

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