There are very few albums that can be described as "energetic, melancholy, earnest, organic, humorous, literate, rowdy, wry, amiable, and fun". There are also few musicians who at 44 could create one of the best albums of all time - not to mention their best work out of a 23 year career (at that point). Of course if anyone could accomplish all that it would be Tom Petty and his amazing, amazing musical piece, Wildflowers. This is one of those albums that you hear for the first time and become obsessed with only to overplay it and leave it on top of your cd player for the next three months while getting acquainted with some other, less worthy cd. When you finally come back to it, it sounds fresher than ever and you can't understand why you waited so long to hear that intro again.
I put this album in my cd player this morning, sat on my exercise bike (that I didn't exercise on), and almost wept listening to Tom Petty sing lines like, "You belong among the wildflowers, you belong somewhere close to me, far away from your troubles and worries, you belong somewhere you feel free". To get by in this life you need to listen to songs like this daily. Whether they make you cry, feel 'rowdy', get literate, or make an organic swiss cheese sandwich, these songs are life affirming - like a good pinch on your arm to make sure you're still breathing. These songs bring out emotions to make sure you're still feeling. It's funny how all our senses are connected: Listening to this album makes me want to put on a brown, fuzzy sweater and look at autumn colored leaves. I suddenly want freshly sharpened pencils and tweed shoes. I don't know why Wildflowers reminds me of fall (it did come out in November '94) but I can only dream of taking a long road trip by myself with aviator sunglasses on and my hand out the window, blasting "You Don't Know How It Feels" and singing along with my favorite lines. In the back of my mind I think I wish I was Tom Petty.
There's a bonus dvd with The Last DJ, another Heartbreakers fall release, that personifies the mixture of Tom Petty and autumn even more for me: The entire Heartbreakers band is in a mahogany recording studio with crisp white speakers and microphones all over. They are dressed in long sleeves and cowboy boots and seem so chipper. Tom Petty, with his pearly white veneers, and Mike Campbell with his sewn in cornrows, look at peace. It's the kind of feeling you get in the fall. Blankets and darkness envelope you and it's simply cozy. That's how Tom Petty's voice makes me feel. Cozy. That's why he could sing about a gator on the lawn (which he's done) and it would sound super awesome. But back to Wildflowers. You can't deny the genius of putting "Time to Move On" back to back with "You Wreck Me" then later transitioning from "Honey Bee" to "Don't Fade On Me". If you've never heard this record, you probably won't understand why that's brilliant but it's like human nature. To me it sounds like a person in a constant struggle with their feelings. First they're sentimental, then ready to start a brand new future, then suddenly wrecked again, then find new happiness, only to be busted up again later on.
Instead of using giant metaphors to get his point across, Petty tells us how it is.
"You spend your life dreaming, running around in a trance
You hang out forever and still miss the dance
And if you get lucky, you might find someone
To help you get over the pain that will come
Yeah, you were so cool back in high school, what happened
You were sure not to have your spirits dampened
But youre just a poor boy alone in this world
Youre just a poor boy alone in this world"
Not only are the lyrics relatable and profound but somehow Petty and Rick Rubin, the producer, completely understood how powerful the song was and allowed just Petty's voice to be heard throughout most of the song. It's almost like he's whispering a secret to the listener. Compare that to a song like the super upbeat "Honey Bee" with blazing guitar licks and it almost seems like they wouldn't even be on the same record. Which leads to another important point about this album: It doesn't matter what mood you're in, you can find a song to fit it. And the fact that the songs go back and forth so much between upbeat and downtempo is an added bonus. You could be on the verge of depression and come back up within four minutes. I know Tom Petty is typically a happy guy but in '94, just two years before divorcing his wife of two decades, some deep stuff must've been boiling while writing this album.
Someone once said to me, "How horrible would it have been if Kevin Spacey had never tried to be an actor?". They asked me this in hope that it would get me motivated to do something gigantic with my own life but as I think about it, there are some people with such sensational gifts that it would literally be selfish if they didn't share them with the world. Tom Petty is one and of course, Kevin Spacey is another. I'm not sure if we all have that but I do know for a fact that if I could write about my feelings and worries like Petty can then I would certainly share that with everyone. Thankfully, there are some amazing nuggets out there, like Wildflowers for me, that express everything I could ever hope to - and do it in a more eloquent way than I could ever dream of. Wildflowers is 62 minutes of pure bliss. I'm sure with all these immense compliments I'm spewing on a silly album I sound like James Lipton interviewing Jennifer Lopez but believe me when I say, it deserves every word.
Favorite Tracks: Honey Bee, You Wreck Me, To Find a Friend, Time to Move On.
Honorable Mentions: Wildflowers, You Don't Know How It Feels, Don't Fade on Me, Wake Up Time.
Although every song is better than almost all other songs on other albums.