Like most of his output, or that output of his peers and contemporaries from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young to Stevie Nicks, the music of the dearly departed Tom Petty is best judged when viewed both in retrospect, and with utter subjectivity.
Like those titans, Petty dedicated his whole career to the pursuance of both musical and lyrical excellence – and, thankfully, he succeeded. The music he made by himself and with his Heartbreakers has touched the hearts and minds of millions of fans across the world, and his Florida drawl – and his Rickenbacker – will be heard and loved for decades to come.
Wildflowers & All The Rest is a super deluxe package that bundles up his second-best solo album (anybody who doesn’t think Full Moon Fever is his best needs to take a long look at themselves) with oodles of contemporaneous ephemera. The best edition – especially in these rather tricky times – would be the 4CD edition, because it’s got all of the goodies and none of the padding.
The first CD in the set is the remastered Wildflowers album itself, first released in 1994. Like his first ‘solo’ album, the record actually features many of his Heartbreakers – but this time the producer’s chair was occupied by Rick Rubin rather than Jeff Lynne, and the difference in their approach to production is apparent from the first chord. Where Full Moon Fever opened with the chiming, glassy chords of Free Falling, Wildflowers opens with much more sedate, much more homely acoustic thrum of the title track.
What you get over the rest of the album is a selection of some of Tom Petty’s best ever material. From the bruised and battered You Don’t Know How It Feels to the stunning You Wreck Me to the positively crunchy blooz of Honey Bee, there’s something for everyone. Some personal favourites – Time To Move On and It’s Good To Be King – are also here. If you’ve not heard them in a few years, it’s easy to forget how dark they are, and indeed how dark the album can get in general.
The second and third discs are what fans will be looking forward to. Disc 2 – the ‘All The Rest’ of the title – is a collection of off-cuts that would have, had they been released as a separate album, been a better set than many latter-day Petty albums. All The Rest is, understandably, a little rough and uneven in tone, but these are essentially 10 more tunes that match the standard of the original album. Something Could Happen, Leave Virginia Alone and either of the two versions of Climb That Hill could easily and discreetly been slotted on to the main album without many fans noticing.
Home Recordings is probably the most fascinating disc in the Petty discography. Much like the deluxe editions of the early albums by The Cure, or many of Dylan’s Bootleg collections, this set of home recordings is worth the price of admission alone. It’s an insight into the mind of a genius, sat alone at home with a guitar, some instruments and a tape recorder. Petty was in the grips of a heroin addiction at the time he cut many of these breathtaking demos. The Home Recordings disc is lengthy, but it’s filled with treasures.
The fourth (and least essential) disc is a collection of live cuts that range from the inspired to the (say it quietly) rather dull. The performances of the Heartbreakers often walk a fine line between ‘professional’ and ‘workmanlike’. As is the case with the E Street Band, these musicians often feel so competent that the live material is virtually identical to the studio tracks, making it rather redundant. Still, for fans this is gold dust.
This is a fantastic box that will occupy fans for the next few weeks and months, but it’s also a superb gateway into the world of Tom Petty for those who like both pretty things and great music (and have a few bob to spare). Here’s hoping the rest of Petty’s albums get this kind of treatment. Full Moon Fever next, please.