Petty blooms lyrically on Wildflowers
By David Greaves
The Villanovan — November 18, 1994
Tom Petty has returned with an intensely poignant and mature solo album. Wildflowers showcases the complete spectrum of Petty’s songwriting talent, from rueful self-evaluation to his trademark dry humor. The new album proves to be one of Petty’s best, with or without the Heartbreakers, his backup band since the mid-70s.
Calling Wildflowers a solo project is somewhat misleading. The Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell, pianist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein contribute on several of the tracks. Campbell’s effusive talent can best be heard in “You Wreck Me,” a fast-paced, buoyant song similar in nature to “Running Down a Dream” from Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever. “A Higher Place” is another up-beat, spirited song that acts to counter-balance more introspective songs like “Hard On Me” and “Wake Up Time.” In “A Higher Place,” Tom Petty’s vocals and Mike Campbell’s guitar are accompanied by a string section orchestrated by Benmont Tench which harmonizes and synthesizes the music into a full and resonant whole.
Although Wildflowers may not achieve the instant success of Full Moon Fever, it captures Petty at a lyrical and musical peak. Petty’s maturity can be heard in the lyrics of songs that deal with the often conflicting emotions of adulthood. On the wistful and poignant “Time to Move On,” Petty sings, “What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing/But under my feet, grass is growing/It’s time to move on.” Also, in “To Find a Friend,” a relatively dark song about a failing marital relationship, he sings, “And the days went by like paper in the wind/Everything changed, then changed again/It’s hard to find a friend.”
However, not all of the songs on Wildflowers are introspective views of conflicting emotions. Petty’s trademark dry humor makes an appearance in several of the songs on the album. The most notable occurrence is in “Honey Bee,” a somewhat twisted view of a shallow, adolescent relationship. In the song, Petty sings, “I’m a man in a trance/I’m a boy in short pants/When I see my honeybee.” Other songs like “Cabin Down Below” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” reveal Petty’s penchant for dry, sarcastic humor.
Wildflowers is Tom Petty’s best material since the 1979 Heartbreakers’ album Damn the Torpedoes. His maturity and songwriting talent come to a peak in this remarkable album.