The Last DJ

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Warner Brothers, 2002

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Let me get one thing out of the way first: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are my very favorite band. I adore the Stones, but while they have only released one great album in my lifetime, 2005’s A Bigger Bang (snigger all you want, it ROCKS), Petty and his boys have risen to very lofty heights and stayed there. They are one of a handful of artists that, upon releasing new music, I will buy as soon as possible, usually without having heard anything from the album itself.

The Last DJ was no exception; out I went and snapped it up, expectations high because they’d never disappointed me. I suppose it was bound to happen one day but you just never expect it, so when it does happen, it catches you unaware and takes awhile for it to sink in. That happened about halfway through the second playing; nothing made it better -- not the early morning hour, not even the vodka.

The first couple of tracks are pretty good, almost great. The album opens with the title track and it wastes no time getting the job done.  It’s upbeat and follows the age-old Petty rule of “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Lyrically it sets the mood for the entire record, albeit rather joyfully considering how pissed off Petty appears to be. It’s a dig at the record companies and radio stations and their long-running mutual back-scratching relationship. One man, however, refuses to tow the line -- “Well ya can’t turn him into a company man, you can’t turn him into a whore / And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore” – you get the drift.    my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Money Becomes King” follows with more of the same. Petty is gently lamenting a world where the dollar wasn’t the star attraction. It’s still a pretty accurate take on the world of show business, particularly the progression of the rock tour from its humble beginnings to its now corporate cash cow status. Musically it’s a slow groove, one that we’ve heard many times from these boys and why not? They do it so well.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here, folks. “Dreamville” is like the ugly sister-in-law of “Free Fallin’,” nowhere near as deep, pretty, or engaging and if she wasn’t family, you wouldn’t tolerate her. No amount of vodka will help there either, trust me. Next up is probably the most polarizing song among Petty fans and critics alike, a little ditty called “Joe.” The song is set to a thumping piano and bass, and it hits you loud and just a beat too early, obviously to awaken you from the aptly titled “Dreamville.” Petty is pissed and while it does sound kinda cool at first, this just never lets up and the howling vocal just gets annoying after a couple of lines.

However, “Joe” does contain a few well directed snipes at the business (“Or bring me a girl, they’re always the best / You put ’em on stage and you have them undress / Some angel whore who can learn a guitar lick / Hey, now that’s what I call music”). So is it the worst song on the album? No, that distinction belongs to “Blue Sunday,” which is stuck halfway through the record and at which point if you’re not a die-hard, you’d probably hit the stop button – and I wouldn’t blame you.

“When A Kid Goes Bad” is the last song worth mentioning by title. Again, it’s not that bad but it’s still far from their best. It shares the same problem that really brings this album down: lack of conviction. This is the first (and only) Heartbreakers album that really disappoints due to its aimlessness. Which is kind of a paradox seeing that Petty from the outset has so much to say. 

The playing is so uninspired that it had me thinking it was a Petty solo album, backed by session guys with one eye on the clock. All of the traits that I love the band for are nowhere to be found and it pisses me off -- I mean, at least if the band had given it some grunt, they could have rescued a few tracks from “filler” status. Could this be the catalyst that caused Petty to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary year with a solo album?

This is the worst album these boys have ever produced. The upside to this is that it remains their only dud and after thirty years at it, that in itself is milestone of sorts. As I said before, it had to happen eventually, and here’s hoping it never happens again.

Rating: C-

User Rating: C



© 2008 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.