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Dark clouds on the horizon for Tom Petty
By Brian Garrity
The Ram — December 1, 1994
For Tom Petty, love is a series of fits and starts, not one smooth ride. The same can be said for Wildflowers, Petty’s first solo effort since Full Moon Fever. While the album is at times inspired, it lacks an overall strong consistency.
Petty is quick out of the gates on the first four tracks, but it’s hit or miss the rest of the way.
Producer Rick Rubin takes out the cutesy feel that was all over Don Was’s Wilberry-style production of Full Moon Fever. Wildflowers is a much more sober effort. Unfortunately, Rubin, who is known for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, apparently isn’t exactly comfortable with the sober feel. His influence is all over the revved up guitars in the ridiculous “Honey Bee” and “Cabin In The Woods.”
Wildflowers is in its element when Petty works with the lower key and acoustic arrangements.
On “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the best song among the 15 in Wildflowers, Petty takes his traditional mid-tempo pace driven by a thumping drum beat and a wailing harmonica.
As an artist Petty seems to be fighting for his vitality and his musical niche, singing lines like: “My old man was born to rock/He’s still tryin’ to beat the clock/think of me what you will/I’ve got a little space to fill.”
Thematically, Petty’s lyrics are strong but familiar as he sings about the fragile nature of love and the disillusionment that surrounds it.
The album leads off with the sweet, wistful title track. Petty sings to a simple acoustic strum: “You belong in the wildflowers/You belong in a boat at sea/You belong with your love on your arm/You belong somewhere you feel free.”
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” is a defensive expression against love. “Turn the radio loud/I’m too alone to be proud/You don’t know how it feels/You don’t know how it feels to be me,” Petty sings.
The Dylan-esque “Time To Move On” is melancholy declaration of perseverance. And “Don’t Fade On Me” is a sparse appeal for love to hang on.
Wildflowers isn’t a lovelorn dirge however. Petty and company also shine on more uptempo tracks like “You Wreck Me,” “To Find A Friend” and “A Higher Place.”
Petty still isn’t exactly cheery when the pace picks up as he sings that “It’s hard to find a friend.”
And he’s downright fatalistic on “A Higher Place” as he sings: “And we gotta leave by night/Before that river takes us down/We gotta find some place that’s dry/We gotta run like we’ve never run/Or we’re gonna lose the light.”
That stanza sums up Wildflowers pretty well. Petty’s hopes for the best are threatened by dark clouds on the horizon.