Whoever created the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” never listened to the music of Tom Petty.
With The Last DJ, Petty manages to beat the recording industry at its own game by releasing a ferocious album attacking everything “the man” stands for while under contract with a major record label. And best of all, his public manifesto is not only ballsy, it’s also catchy.
After a recent string of somber albums devoid of any major hits, Petty’s latest release is a breath of fresh air. With a well-balanced mix of rock songs and rock ballads, The Last DJ manages to keep the listener entertained through the very end. Although nothing can compare to Petty’s classic early hits, The Last DJ will keep old fans happy while continuing to attract new generations of fans with his Dylan-esque voice and bluesy riffs.
Petty has always been a rebel in the music industry. Whether he’s criticizing large corporations buying out radio stations or denouncing corporate-sponsored tours, the rocker simply refuses to sellout. It’s inspiring that an artist with such a lengthy career (this is his 14th album in 26 years) can still summon the passion to write songs from the heart that really mean something.
In an age of prepackaged looks and sounds, Petty retains his individuality. In a recent interview with VH1, the rocker commented on the current trend of corporate-created music: “Young people are being offered crap and drivel. It’s not about anything with any element of truth or danger or excitement or mystery. It’s five cats in sweaters doing dance steps.”
The title track of The Last DJ is a vicious critique of today’s radio stations, condemning the domination of corporate-sponsored stations and the decline of DJs. In his interview with VH1, Petty also discussed the current trend of DJs who no longer pick the music they play.
“In the old days, there were still people involved in radio that chose the music they were going to play themselves. You came to know the personalities on the radio. Some of them you hated, and some of them you really liked. But it was much more fun than it is now,” he said.
The album also slams record labels that abuse their power to make more money. The fierce rock tune “Joe” depicts a CEO who sacrifices his morals for the sake of profit. The biting lyrics, “Bring me a girl / they’re always the best / you put ’em on stage / and you have ’em undress” are some of Petty’s strongest in years.
The theme of money over morals is further evidenced in the swinging sound of “Money Becomes King.” Although this is one of the weaker tracks on the album musically, the lyrics still manage to sting.
A highlight of The Last DJ is the rockin’ “When a Kid Goes Bad.” Excellent guitar licks paired with catchy lyrics make for a song guaranteed to get your head boppin’. Another winner, the bluesy rocker “Lost Children,” has an amazing hook along with classic electric guitar solos.
The Last DJ is not all anger and attitude, though; Petty also manages to please the softer sector of his audience with slow-rock ballads like “Dreamville,” “You and Me” and “Have Love Will Travel.” While not as commanding as the album’s heavier tunes, these subtle songs are a good contrast to the more vicious rock songs.
The classic ’60s sound of “Can’t Stop the Sun” made the tune a big hit on Petty’s recent summer tour and leaves the listener hungering for more when it closes the album. The optimistic words “You may think it’s all over / but there’ll be more just like me / who won’t give in / who’ll rise again” end the album with a hope for the future and cement Petty’s position in today’s current music scene.
All in all, The Last DJ is a good rock album with lyrics that make you think and guitar riffs that make you jam.