“Ten years had passed since Petty’s last solid outing (Damn the Torpedoes in 1979)” (Fleming) and “although Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) found the Heartbreakers regaining their strength as a band and discovering a newfound ease at songcraft, it just didn’t sell that well. Perhaps that factor, along with road fatigue, led Tom Petty to record his first solo album, Full Moon Fever” (Erlewine). “Full Moon Fever fully resuscitated the artist’s career, which – some would say ‘arguably’ – had been losing steam. With the album’s four major hits and rave reviews from the critics (these things do not always go hand-in-hand), Petty must have breathed a sigh of relief” (Fleming).
“The distinction between ‘solo’ and ‘Heartbreakers’ is a fuzzy one because Full Moon Fever is essentially in the same style as the Heartbreakers albums; Mike Campbell co-wrote two songs and co-produced the record, and he, along with Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein, all play on the album” (Erlewine).
“However, the album sounds different from any Heartbreakers record due to the presence of former Electric Light Orchestra leader” (Erlewine) and “musician, writer and producer Jeff Lynne” (Amazon.com). “Petty co-wrote the lion’s share of the album with Lynne, who also is the record’s main producer. In his hands, Petty’s roots rock becomes clean and glossy, layered with shimmering vocal harmonies, keyboards, and acoustic guitars. It’s a friendly, radio-ready sound, and if it has dated somewhat over the years, the craft is still admirable and appealing” (Erlewine).
“But the real reason Full Moon Fever became Petty’s biggest hit is that it boasted a selection of songs that rivaled Damn the Torpedoes. Full Moon Fever didn’t have a weak track; even if a few weren’t quite as strong as others, the album was filled with highlights” (Erlewine).
Most prominent were I Won’t Back Down and the “introspective” (Fleming) Free Fallin’, “a coming-of-age ballad that could be Petty’s best song” (Erlewine). Petty also “rocked out” (Fleming) with “the charging Runnin’ Down a Dream” (Erlewine).
However, the album also featured “the wistful A Face in the Crowd” (Erlewine) and a “tribute (finally) to the Byrds with a cover of Feel a Whole Lot Better” (Fleming). Petty “had a wild time on Zombie Zoo” (Fleming) and tosses in a couple “rockabilly throwaways Yer So Bad and A Mind with a Heart of Its Own” (Erlewine), the former a showcase for how Petty “perfected the sing-along guitar-pop song” (Fleming).
“Full Moon Fever might have been meant as an off-the-cuff detour, but it turned into a minor masterpiece” (Erlewine) and an example of “pure Petty perfection!” (Fleming).