Sound — 9
This is Tom Petty's first release as a solo artist, and although he technically wasn't joined by The Heartbreaker, this album fit's right in with their catalog. Fellow Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Howie Epstein all play on the album, with Campbell also co-writing two songs and serving as co-producer. However, what sets this apart from the Heartbreakers records is Jeff Lynne. Lynne, the former singer/guitarist of prominent 70's rock band Electric Light Orchestra produced the record and with Petty co-wrote many of the songs. Lynne's masterwork cleaned up Petty's distinct take on American roots-rock, and paved it's way to immortality.
Lyrics — 9
01.Free Fallin': Petty kicks off the album with a major key chord progression that continues through almost the entire song. The lyrics paint a picture of real American people living real American lives, and the chorus is one of so many of his that make you want to just hop on the highway with the windows down and this song blasting through the stereo. 02.I Won't Back Down: as the title suggests, the second song on the album doesn't let up an inch after the liberating Free Fallin'. The lyrics consist of a person who seems to keep getting the short straws from life, but declares to never let up on his way to happiness. Petty has said in interviews that he was initially worried about how bluntly truthful the song was, but decided that the personal honesty was a virtue rather than a fault. 03.Love is a Long Road: I wouldn't call it "filler", but this song always seemed to kind of blend into the rest of the album to me. Petty tells a story of a broken romance over a power chord guitar melody and pulsating keyboard and bass lines. It's a good song in it's own right, but doesn't stand out the way the first two tracks do. 04.A Face in the Crowd: a slower song featuring a strumming acoustic guitar with meandering, yearning arpeggios over the top, but the focus is on the lyrics. It's about how as people we're all just faces in the crowd going about our life with no relevance to one another until you meet someone and put a name to them... Or miss the opportunity to. It's very bittersweet and haunting sounding. 05.Runnin' Down a Dream: another song that continues to define Tom Petty 20 years later, Runnin' Down a Dream has the perfect marriage of music and lyrics to illustrate the relentless pursuit of... Something in life, even if the destination itself is not yet clear. Just a beautiful declaration of wanting something more and then actively going out to find it. 06.I'll Feel a Whole Let Better: This is a cover song that was originally written by The Byrds, and it certainly retains that sunny, jangly pop sound, almost early Beatles-esque. Petty provides an enthusiastic take on the vocals and the sardonic view of romance in the lyrics. 07.Yer So Bad: this song has a really infectious rockabilly/country sound as Petty croons a lover who saves him from a "world gone mad". 08.Depending on You: one of my favorite songs on the album, the verses have Petty serenading someone as if to give them reassuring advice, but the song gives way to a high-flying chorus with a pulsating snare drum and angelic background vocals. 09.The Apartment Song: another rollicking rockabilly number highlighted by a snappy 12 bar blues on acoustic guitar and a straight ahead drum backbeat, and an awesome brige section with a double-time feel. To me the lyrics are about going through something that's not exactly the best, but realizing that that's life and not letting it get to you. Just keep your head up and roll with the punches. 10.Alright for Now: a beautiful slow song with just Tom singing and playing an arpeggiated acoustic chord progression. Very lullaby like, it's hard to imagine a more beautiful love song. 11.A Mind With a Heart of It's Own: an uptempo song with Bob Dylan-like stream of consciousness lyrics, this song seems like it would've been right at home on an album like Highway 61 Revisited. 12.Zombie Zoo: this song is about a fun-loving girl who could be a hooker, stripper, or maybe just a "punk rawker". It's a great album closer with lyrics and melodies (complete with background "ooh-la-la"'s) that sort of put you in a weird mood... But in a good way. For me it kinda takes me back to the 50's, but more like I'm at a 50's themed party than actually there.
Overall Impression — 9
Overall this is an absolute must have for any classic rock fan, and I'd venture to say any music fan in general. There isn't a bad track on this record, but Free Fallin', I Won't Back Down, and Runnin' Down a Drea are absolutely timeless. If I didn't know any better and you told me they were recorded last year I would probably believe you. No one has been able to conglomerize folk-rock, rockabilly, heartland rock and jangle pop the way Tom Petty did on this album, and the sounds and stories are just as relevant today as they were in 1989.