Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
If you are not a diehard Tom Petty fan (and I'm not, I fall somewhere between casual and formal fandom) than you usually skip a bunch of tracks on Petty albums, and just listen to your favorites. With two exceptions: Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers.
The new release of the updated Wildflowers is the reason I'm doing this discography now, but that doesn't detract from the joy of toying with Full Moon Fever. I have not removed any songs, and have, in fact, added a couple of Travelling Wilburys songs to it.
The original album was mostly designed to showcasr singles. It starts hella strong and slowly fades in quality until the Obvious Closer for the album, and then it comes back and smacks you with the weirdest song on the album.
I appreciate that method, but have aimed for a more cohesive album, letting the singles pop up occasionally rather than throwing them all at you at once.
I don't care if it's sacrilege not to start with those five breezy strums that signal the opening of "Free Fallin'". This album has several songs that serve as great openers. For my money, I love the folk silliness of Yer So Bad. It's a signal that this album isn't like any previous Petty album. The production is cleaner. The jangle is still present but no longer the focus of songs. Jeff Lynne (the guy from ELO, and a fellow Traveling Wilbury) has pushed Petty's vocals to the front, and the whole album is better for it. Instead of rebellious Southern Rock with a screeching Petty, this is going to be a bright, shiny, happy Petty. It's a joy to listen to.
The first single comes crashing through with an incredible riffy opening. Runnin' Down A Dream is such a summer song, perhaps the second most summer song on this Very summer album. I love how they fade the rhythm guitars to the front for the silly strumming, and then push it back to the background. The woo-ooohs that swallow the ending of the song, as the sinister guitar riff is subdued by a Mike Campbell solo is also a new and welcome addition for a Heartbreakers song (it's true that this is Petty's first "solo" album, but many of the Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys play on it).
This is silly. "Runnin' Down A Dream" was the final song from Side A of the original cassette, and Petty does a little skit about it being the end of Side A. I like keeping it at the end of the second track. Just because it's fun, and because it makes the fact that the next song, End Of The Line, starts with Roy Orbison vocals before Petty joins in. Yeup, it's a Traveling Wilburys song. Still summery. I just see the sun coming down while people do watersports (like kayaking and diving into a lake, pervs).
We slow things down a bit with A Face In The Crowd. I think it's a mandolin that strums throughout the song that helps this song stand out. It's only the second excellent ballad Petty has recorded (after "Southern Accents").
Fading in at the end of the previous track is a Very 80s synth beat that's soon overwhelmed by Very Tom Petty drums and guitars. Love Is A Long Road is the first track that would have fit on an early Petty album. Its production may be cleaner but it's a classic Petty song, and it's hard not to imagine this is just a really good regular Heartbreaker track. It has more of a late 70s than a late 80s feel, apart from those synths. Lord, those synths.
Zombie Zoo is such a ridiculous Petty song. The brief piano riffs. The floating background vocals (which include Roy Orbison). The lyrics you shaved off all your hair / you look like Boris Karloff / and you don't even care. The chorus uses the phrase painted in the corner and, for reasons I can't explain, it always finishes in my head with like you was Pointdexter from Young MC's "Bust A Move", which came out the same year. I don't know why I've always had this association.
Another light, fun song is Cool Dry Place, a Traveling Wilburys song with Petty completely at the forefront. Unlike the previous Wilbury tracks, this one keeps the other Wilburys in the background, rather than have them trade verses. So it really does sound like a Petty song. But with Orbinson, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne as background singers. There's also a great low sax croaking, and some horn ribbits rounding out the bright instrumentation.
After a breath of silence, it finally comes in. Free Fallin'. I enjoy it as a change of pace, rather than the intro. I think it gives the song more weight on the album. Although, if this were a cassette or record, this would come at exactly the beginning of Side B.
I also want a cooldown after "Free Fallin'". The original album followed it up with "I Won't Back Down". I prefer putting The Apartment Song here. It's a solid song. A less weird "Yer So Bad" with more of a 1970s Heartbreakers vibe. And it has a great drum breakdown in the middle for a Southern Rock jam. I actualy wish there was more of the rockabilly piano before the song faded out.
Twanging out of the piano is A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own. Another strange set of lyrics (where on Earth does I slept in your treehouse / my middle name of Earl come from in this song?) but a more radio-friendly instrumentation. I like the slide guitar twang, and the weird rising background vocals that don't actually go anywhere after the false stop.
I Won't Back Down is the obvious second favorite song on this album. It's got the rebellious spirit of early Petty but with the more subdued delivery of the newly maturing Petty. It's catchy as all hell.
Jangle jangle jangle in the foreground. Sing-along-background vocals. Feel A Whole Lot Better is a great breakup song with 100% less misogyny than previous Petty breakup songs. The mandolin has it feeling somewhere between a country song and something off of REM's Out Of Time. I debated having this as the final track but I'm a sucker for ending an album with a ballad.
Probably the song I'm least familiar with on the album (though I know all the words) is Depending On You. It's another throwback to the earlier Heartbreakers sound, the ones where Petty sing-talks before falling back into the melody. If I had to lose a song on the album, it would be this. But I don't want to lose it, even if it structurally weakens the close of the album a bit with its reliance on someone else, which stands in start contrast with the message of every other song.
There's a false start to the wonderfully sleepy lullaby, Alright For Now. This song would have fit right in on Wildflowers. In fact, "Wake Up Time" is almost a response to this track. And, okay, this also has a bit of co-dependent feel that clashes with the album's overall theme. But it's such a perfect summer lullaby.