RECORD RACK: TOM PETTY | “Wildflowers” | Warner Bros. | ★★★
By Chris Willman
The Los Angeles Times — October 30, 1994
A bit of a wildflower himself, Petty has rerooted himself away from the 12-string roots-rock he staked his career on. This marks his third straight album in a more stark and somber–yet occasionally more mirthful–mode (although Rick Rubin replaces Jeff Lynne as co-producer). Petty’s adventuresome recent feel is less Byrds, more whippoorwill.
“Wildflowers” is inconsistent, and doesn’t offer any new songs that rank with Petty’s greatest. Yet the mixture he’s going for here has such an interesting, subtle kind of resonance you may not bemoan the lack of instant anthems. His trademark lately seems an odd combo of cool whimsy and sadness–so that while the kids sing along with the “Let’s roll another joint” chorus of “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” it’s the “I’ve got a little space to fill” throwaway line that seems more the point. And while “It’s Good to Be King” may have been suggested by Mel Brooks, those doleful Michael Kamen strings that end it tell us it’s tough to be king or just a regal wanna-be.
The 15 tracks are heavy on soothingly lamentful ballads, though enough of Petty’s usual band turns up on this “solo” album to make “You Wreck Me” a typically propulsive Heartbreakers rocker and “Honey Bee” buzz like Beatlesque metal.