Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty.
The late Tom Petty may just be a year gone this week but his solo release ‘Full Moon Fever’ captures the very spirit of the man and just like him it refuses to be forgotten or simply disappear into time. This is one of the most uplifting and beautiful albums of the last century whilst along the way reminding us how a solid rock and roll album should sound; inspired with youthful energy that pulls the listener in with every glorious syllable.
The story of ‘Full Moon Fever’ began in 1988 with the George Harrison formed super-group The Traveling Wilburys, the band had shot all involved back into the spotlight, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and of course Tom Petty. All were rejuvenated by chart success again, in particular Dylan who released ‘Oh Mercy’ his finest work in a decade and Roy Orbison's ‘Mystery Girl’ which helped him find the charts once more, the success of these paled in comparison to what Petty unveiled as he launched his name and soulful blend of lyrical genius across the late 80s airwaves.
Petty dominated the charts for over a year on the back of 'Full Moon Fever', form the albums opener and one its very high profile singles, Free Fallin, we are immediately hooked in; "She's a good girl, crazy 'bout Elvis Loves horses and her boyfriend too." An acoustic, slow number, but the soulful, almost southern-twang which is the voice of Tom Petty is both soft and snarling, effortless with sentiment and deadly in delivery and it is this sound which makes him stand out in rock music.
The simply constructed but firm rocking songs send visions of open highways and open-top cars to fill the senses with freedom, as we follow the simplest of guitar riffs and are taken deeper into his world, Runnin’ Down A Dream the fine example of his ability to build pictures of perfect settings in the listeners mind; “It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down I had the radio on, I was drivin'’
At times, the feeling that Petty is directly recalling his own life becomes very clear, an autobiographical tale which stirs in every track. His cover of the Byrds' Feel A Whole Lot Better along with references to Del Shannon and Elvis, Petty tips his hat and nods in the direction of the influences which have gotten him so far in his career.
An over-play of the hits from the album such as I Won’t Back Down and Face In The Crowd may have taken away from the impact but do find their place on the album, however even the non-released tracks have a spark of brilliance. The finest example of this is Love is a Long Road, a song that points to what The Who should have sounded like in the 1980s, a straight forward rocker combing seventies sensibilities with a synth backdrop, creating one of the most uniquely recorded tracks of the era: "There were so many times I would wake up at noon Yeah, with my head spinning 'round I would wait for the moon".
The territory of sound Tom Petty steers us through is one of killer and very little filler, in fact it is difficult to find a dud track here, the only gripe may be that the rough edges are smoothed too much by the production of ELO maestro Jeff Lynne, for an artist who displayed such raw-intensity on previous releases, harnessing that power takes away from the rawness of the rock, nevertheless overly commercial or not it stands as a timeless testament to Tom Petty.
With his premature death last year 'Full Moon Fever' charted again in the UK almost thirty years after its initial release, a statement of fact pointing towards the quality and longevity of this masterpiece.