Wildflowers


Band: Tom Petty
Album: Wildflowers
Best song: The title track is one of my favorite Petty songs.
Worst song: “Hard on Me” isn’t the best.

After the Concert for Valor, I had an interesting conversation with my boss (a big Springsteen fan) about a certain brand of straight rock and roll and its place in society. He referenced U2 as the type of band that’s, basically, always been relevant since inception, yet never really fell into the dreaded “classic rock” category that many bands of that vintage do. Springsteen is in that category, but most bands of that and earlier eras most certainly do not; Zeppelin, Dylan, the Stones, REM, etc. are still giants, but when they tour, they do the hits. No new stuff. Shit, Concert for Valor artists Metallica thinks themselves the former, but are most definitely the latter. It’s hard to avoid.

(The other category is the nostalgia bands — REO Speedwagon, Boston, Styx, etc. — that play the county fairs. That’s just a sad existence.)

I brought up Tom Petty in the “always modern” category, but I wonder if he’s simply ageless. Petty is unique and his fans appear to love his new stuff as much as his old stuff. Maybe I’m wrong, because I am, indeed, one of his fans.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I tell people my love for Tom Petty, they are surprised. He is so so many things I really hate (first and foremost, he’s Floridian), but Petty’s catalog sits up there with any artist. He’s got that awful Americana thing, but somehow makes it seem unforced and lovely. His voice has the slightest drawl, but doesn’t sound like some hayseed. The twangy guitar and harmonica just reek of weak country rock, but comes out as sincere. He’s transformed from a Southern guy who checked punk to a the kindly dad on the block who is oddly the perfect philosopher.

Either way, his catalog is unstoppable. From his 1976 debut with the Heartbreakers — and the superlative album ender “American Girl” — to this July’s Hypnotic Eye, he’s not made a misstep. No, not all the albums are as great as Full Moon Fever or Damn the Torpedoes, but goddamn, Petty’s work is strong.

It could be argued that Petty’s peak is 89-96 and Wildflowers was right in there. It’s got Petty as his dad-rocking best with “You Wreck Me,” a song that featured a hard-charging beat and simply multi-tracked vocals in the chorus, but it’s also got one of his best laconic thumpers in “You Don’t Know How it Feels.”

The highlight of the record, for me, remains the title track. Like the best pop rock stuff from my parents’ generation, Petty’s little love song lists out, Chuck Berry-style, the ways in which the singer loves the subject of his song. Using the floral imagery of, uh, flowers, Petty’s voice has never sounded more lovely.

Petty’s work is the type of thing that could be considered inoffensive, which is a thing I generally hate. But, for whatever reason, I adore Tom Petty’s music. In a cat log of superlative records, Wildflowers is among his best.

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