The Last DJ
You can't please everyone all of the time.
This philosophy rings true on Tom Petty's new album, The Last DJ, which is by turns a slap in the face to corporate radio and his fair-weather fans.
Throughout the ballad-heavy song cycle, Petty attempts to break down the same evil music industry that he worked so hard to break into in the '70s.
But money-hungry label executives won't be the only ones disappointed in The Last DJ.
Drunken concertgoers will be saddened to find that there is no "Free Fallin'" on The Last DJ. There's not even a "You Wreck Me" cash-cow. Instead, Petty's new album focuses more on same nostalgic balladeering that 1999's Echo reveled in and leaves behind fans looking for a good song to get high to.
The album opens with a four-track kick in the crotch to the corrupt, conniving music industry. The title track, "Money Becomes King" and "Joe" level sneering, heavy-handed metaphors at posing rock stars, Clear Channel Radio and black-hearted CEOs.
The most successful of these early tracks is "Dreamville," an ode to every bedroom guitarist who ever aspired to writing a timeless rock anthem.
Separately, these tracks work as testaments to Petty's cause. But taken together, they are just too heavy-handed and make the album difficult to sit through. And honestly, "Into the Great Wide Open" said everything Petty needed to say about the music industry much more eloquently.
But subtlety has never been Petty's forte. He's just too earnest to beat around the bush. And you can't fault Petty for using his major-label muscle to reform the sad state of the music industry.
After these tracks, the album's central theme fizzles out, and Petty wisely drops the six-shooter in favor of his trademark six-string. Only the brilliant closer, "Can't Stop the Sun," retreads the musician versus businessman theme in its phoenix-from-the-flames mantra.
As the second half of Wildflowers proved, the older, wiser Petty is at his best when penning nostalgic, sun-soaked ballads. To date, "It's Good To Be King" and "Wake Up Time" from that album rank as some of his best and most affecting songs.
Like those tracks, the effortless, elegiac "Like A Diamond" and "Blue Sunday" hit universal nerves by romanticizing the past. And though Petty has never sounded more like Bob Dylan than on the stellar "Have Love Will Travel," it's still the best song that Petty has written since "Walls" from the "She's the One" soundtrack.
The muddled "Lost Children" is Petty's only true misstep here, with its whiny melody and Mike Campbell's overwrought guitar solos. Even the bluesy, monotonous "Money Becomes King" succeeds after repeated plays.
Longtime fans might be slightly disappointed that this album doesn't reach the levels of transcendence that Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers effortlessly achieved. But The Last DJ is more than enough to solidify Petty's stance as the last aging rocker still succeeding on the strength of tried-and-true rock and roll.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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