Album Review: Tom Petty // Wildflowers & All The Rest

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Tom Petty’s fastest selling album upon release, Wildflowers hit the shelves half a decade after the Floridian’s career-defining (sans-Heartbreakers) debut Full Moon Fever had shifted a veritable truckload of units. The album was produced by Rick Rubin but shorn of 10 of the 25 songs Petty submitted at the behest of veteran Warner’s exec Lenny Waronker, perhaps not keen on saddling his paymasters with yet another double-album to flog at the height of their costly feud with Prince.

Petty’s announcement three years ago to revisit ‘Wildflowers’, clearly in retrospective mood having just completed a Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour, was sadly mothballed by his unexpected passing, the Petty estate subsequently curating a barnstorming warts-and-all ‘Deluxe Edition’, containing the missing 10 tracks and a selection of live recordings and home demos.

Those making the first cut are as fresh as any vintage Petty, ever the lovable rogue; languid Byrdsy rock, pop sensibility as well as Buckingham’s Tusk-era edginess, the output usually proves more interesting than many of his peers. Fine stoner anthem ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ sounds like Neil Young performing ‘The Joker’, whereas the straight ahead dad-with-the-top-down rocker ‘You Wreck Me’ provides welcome audio sunshine in these dark and chilly lockdown times. All 10 once cast-aside tracks give the finger to Waronker; the original cull must have been a wrench. ‘Something Could Happen’ reminds me of a stripped-down version of ‘Woman in Love’. After missing the cut, ‘Leave Virginia Alone’ was handed to Rod the Mod to maul, Petty’s version way better, not feeling out of place on a Wilburys’ record.      

Never a massive fan of alternate recordings, for me it is like eating cake mix out of the bowl, agreeable enough but never same as the finished product. Nevertheless, seeing the journey a song takes from idea to finished article will always appeal to many and the quality control is pretty consistent here. Saying that, the best of the home recordings are probably a couple of demos outside the 25 including tender odes ‘There Goes Angela (Dream Away)’ and ‘There’s a Break in the Rain (Have Love Will Travel)’.  

The ‘Wildflowers Live’ section proves a hugely entertaining if slightly upsetting listen, a revered and sadly missed singer songwriter at ease in front of his adoring fans. Heartbreakers’ favourites ‘Walls (Circus)’ and ‘Driving Down to Georgia’ both delight, yet the live highlight is easily won the seldom played yet joyous Johnny Cash influenced bar-room stomp of a B-side for the  ‘Wildflowers’ single, ‘Girl On LSD’.

Gone but never forgotten.


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