Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have long been one of America's most successful rock and roll bands, but Petty has maintained his integrity, witnessed in such incidents as his disputes with his record label over the rising prices of his records in 1981 (when the label planned to sell "Hard Promises" at $9.98, one dollar higher than previously, Petty withheld the release and threatened to name the album "$8.98".) He also refuses to sell his concert tickets for $150 like so many of the rock oldies do these days (that being said, he is the highest I've ever paid for a concert, at about $45 in 1999).
"This record is dedicated to everyone who loves music just a little bit more than money." say the liner notes of their latest offering, "The Last DJ". Since the release of the first single, the title track (which was banned on some radio stations), this album has been labelled a protest record and anti-music industry. Petty claims it's more an observation of American culture - of our violent society and our worship of the mighty dollar over all else.
Some have gone so far as to call this a concept album, but I disagree. While half of the dozen tracks do focus on criticizing things like today's music industry, greed and violence, the other half are the love songs and the stories about freedom and driving around without a care that have always been themes of Petty's songs. But this is a different band to the band that released their self-titled debut in 1976. Petty has always been a great storyteller, but now more mature and more experienced (and angrier), his lyrics mean a lot more.
Let's face it. Musically, the Heartbreakers are past their prime. They'll never create another "Breakdown" or "Refugee". There are still some great tunes on this album, including the title track (their best single since 1993's "Mary Jane's Last Dance", in my opinion), the harsh "Joe", the incredibly fun "The Man Who Loves Women" and the beautiful "Have Love Will Travel", which is probably most reminiscent of their older material.
I definitely respect the themes and thought behind this record, and I have a feeling it will grow on me as time goes by. Good for the fans, but if you want to hear them at their best, buy one of their earlier records.
how about a cheer
for all those bad girls
and all the boys
that play that rock and roll
they love it
like you love jesus
it does the same thing
to their souls
The Last DJ
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
2002 Warner Bros.
(Edit: Playing the CD on your PC will give you videos for "The Last DJ" and "Have Love Will Travel", being played live in the studio, and a photo gallery.)