Feature artwork by Cap Blackard, Steven Fiche, Virginia McCarthy, Kailyn Boehm, and Jacob Livengood (Purchase Prints + More)
FACES is Consequence of Sound’s quarterly literary magazine. Each volume will focus on an artist whose scope of creativity and cultural impact defies simple categorization. Through a blend of original artwork and a variety of writings, we hope to both shed light upon and celebrate the artists who continually inspire us to put pen to paper.
We like to write about music … a lot. If you’ve read Consequence of Sound before, you’ve noticed. When writing about music—or any type of art for that matter—it’s almost impossible not to let some of who you are seep into your work. As an editor, I learn a lot about who our writers are even when they’re not really intending to reveal much. Sometimes it’s a turn of phrase or style choice in an album review; other times it’s a joke hoping to liven up a matter-of-fact news article. Gather enough of these fragments and sometimes you begin to see the whole tapestry of a person come into view.
FACES is different, though. At least this edition is.
The essays and stories within—brought all the more to life by our art team’s eye-popping visuals—don’t offer mere strands or torn bits of cloth; here, you get the writer by the yard, right off the giant fabric spool: love, fear, crisis, resolve, and memories. It’s all in there.
But what does that have to do with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?
Well, as I think the following pages show, the reason we continue to listen to an artist like Petty is that his music speaks to us or, maybe more importantly, for us. It tells us something about who we are and helps us explain ourselves to each other. That’s the point, really. Of any of this. “You don’t know how it feels to be me,” Petty sings. Well, because of Petty’s music, we know pretty well how he feels, and you’ll know how we feel, too.
So, let’s get to the point…
Table of Contents:
— Reliving Our Greatest Hits by Matt Melis
— What Are You Doin’ in My Decade? by Michael Roffman
— Wilting Wildflowers by Dusty Henry
— Born to Be a Wildflower by Ryan Bray
— Into the Great Wide Open by Dan Caffrey
— Original artwork by Cap Blackard, Steven Fiche, Virginia McCarthy, Kailyn Boehm, and Jacob Livengood
— FACES: Neil Young, Vol. 1.1, Spring Edition
— FACES: Dave Grohl, Vol. 1.3, Fall Edition
As always, support our in-house art staff by clicking the links throughout this journal and purchasing their work in your choice of a variety of fun, innovative, and practical formats.
Reliving Our Greatest Hits
By Matt Melis
Artwork by Cap Blackard (Purchase Prints + More)
Thirty-one isn’t old. Maybe for tennis players, but not for concertgoers. I tell myself this on mornings while plucking small infantries of mobilized, gray hairs in the bathroom mirror, and I surround myself with similar-aged music lovers who are equally invested in the lie. (I’ve noticed hangouts with friends feel more like support group meetings over drinks these days.) Still, even with my mutually conferred upon “youth” intact, the concerts of my indisputable youth—that sweaty, fumbling, reckless, your-dad-would-kill-us brand of being young that doesn’t require second opinions—have gradually dissipated into a hazy steam of lost summer nights, faded friendships, and clouds of unidentified substances wafting through my hair and settling into my clothes. The concerts I once could play, stop, rewind, and replay in my mind now, if I’m lucky, can still be cued up like 30-second SportsCenter highlight reels, a wrinkled tour shirt or creased, yellowing ticket stub sometimes conjuring up an extra camera angle or slow-motion replay but little more.
Part of that missing footage results from the simple passing of time, no doubt aided by some rather forgettable shows over the years. More of it, though, at least in my case, seems to come along with facing the pressures of full-blown adulthood for the first time. In college, if asked, I could immediately distinguish between, say, my 15th and 23rd Bob Dylan show in “Never Ending” detail for the same reason that, as a boy, I could recite the complete 1989 roster of every NBA basketball team. At one time, that information felt imperative. Nowadays, if something doesn’t pertain to my family, job, or bills, it’s not worth knowing, hearing about, or remembering.
Photo by Philip Cosores
That feels true on most days. But not all. Really, it’s a lie. A lie we tell ourselves so we can go on putting family first, ascending to bigger and better cubicles, and making car insurance payments to, of all things, a lizard. But within that outwardly responsible, neatly dressed Trojan horse of maturity, we smuggle with us the very thing that makes adulthood in the modern world tolerable—the ability to, on occasion, remember a time when we could never imagine ourselves as we are now, a time when nothing seemed more important than staring deep into the eyes of a person you just met; pushing 90 mph in the cool highway moonlight; or, for many of us, lying barefoot on the grass with friends and staring at the stars while the band played on.
I’ve been thinking about that last one a lot lately. About those embedded concert films I mentioned earlier—the ones that have either gone unlabeled and missing in my mind’s filing system or others that are slowly deteriorating like forgotten reels in an old Hollywood studio vault. I’ve brought a few concerts along with me, though. And a couple have survived in full DTS Surround Sound and my memory’s most vibrant Technicolor. One of them is a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert from August 16, 2006, in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. Ask me about that concert. Go on. It’s those NBA rosters all over again.
Photo by Philip Cosores
Funny thing about that concert is that I only recently realized I had it stored away somewhere—that it hadn’t evaporated into the ether like hundreds of other shows, my childhood phone number, and the names of all the state capitals. All it took was spinning Petty’s Greatest Hits record a few weeks ago for the first time in a couple years, and that night in 2006—the whole experience—came back to me. Not just the recollection of that show or a few blurry mental snapshots, but the ability to close my eyes and practically relive a night from my early twenties. It’s like that night was sealed into the grooves of my Greatest Hits vinyl, just waiting to be awoken and summoned by the needle.
Greatest hits collections have long been standard record label procedure for separating listeners from their money twice for the same songs. While they can push massive units (ask The Eagles or Queen), they’re also somewhat of a joke. (So much so that a local songwriter in a Key West bar once told me that he named his greatest hits album after his ex-wife: Greta’s Tits, he called it). But Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits never felt like a marketing ploy or joke, even though it was nearly a complete recycling job and ranks as their top-selling record. I’m probably not alone or even very unique in saying that it’s the only Tom Petty album I’ve ever owned—once on cassette, once on CD, and finally on used vinyl. For most Petty fans that I know, it wasn’t only the entry point—the way in—but the sticking point—what they keep returning to—even more so than classics like Damn the Torpedoes or Full Moon Fever.
Sometimes an album ends up defining a band. Greatest Hits does more than that, though. It takes all those hit singles as if they were orphans on the cold streets of classic rock radio and gives them a home—so convincingly so that it’s almost difficult to imagine they ever lived on other albums next door to other songs. Even the Greatest Hits album cover serves as the default image I have of Petty and the Heartbreakers. Say their name and I immediately see that orb floating in that fuzzy, soft red and grime checkerboard, Petty in white, the others in black with varying Crayola skin colors.
The more I think about it, the more I recognize the extent to which Greatest Hits encapsulates the entire Heartbreakers experience. I imagine it’s the reason why playing that record brings that night back to life for me. A walk through the Post-Gazette Pavilion parking lot before that show bears that reasoning out. Everyone blared Petty from their vehicles, and if you lingered long enough to hear one track end and another begin, you’d notice they were all playing Greatest Hits—“Even the Losers”, for instance, seguing into “Here Comes My Girl” instead of the other way around as found on Damn the Torpedoes.
Even more interestingly, fans seemed to actually embody the album. A “rebel without a clue” in a leather jacket and shitkicker cowboy hat belted out “Into the Great Wide Open” from the back of his pickup truck, the Confederate flag draped across the rear window of his cab as a backdrop. From several sources, Petty defiantly declared, “You don’t have to live like a refugee,” all while concertgoers huddled beneath tarps in makeshift camps scattered across the parking lot, waiting out a light early evening rain. A brown and white camper van with orange trim gently rocked back and forth; a homemade, wooden sign that read “Don’t Come Around Here No More!” hung from the door, the equivalent of a dorm room with a sock left on the doorknob.
During the concert came more of the same. I spotted an old friend’s father—a middle-aged man who had grown his shaggy, red mane out, started going by “Big Nick” to his son’s friends, and never showed up anywhere without baked eyes and the stench of herb—lighting up in a circle of teenagers as Petty rapped on about that girl who “grew up right with them Indiana boys on an Indiana night.” (Now, as I rewatch him make a fool of himself, the chorus of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” takes on an entirely different meaning, and I sympathize a bit with a guy who felt so overwhelmed by that daily existence of family, work, and bills I spoke of earlier that he just … dropped … out.) And by the time Petty and band finished those jangly, opening plucks on encore closer “American Girl”, the crowd had suddenly transformed into one dancing ocean of red, white, and blue: banners, shirts, towels, and underwear all sporting Old Glory. And each female, regardless of nationality or age, truly believed that she was the American girl Petty sang about—no different than a girl named Angie at a Stones concert.
If fans seem to live into the Greatest Hits album, Petty surely plays into it, too. That’s actually one of the criticisms he faces from non-fans. On the live act spectrum between, say, Death Grips, who might not even turn up for a show as an artistic statement, and a jukebox, Petty falls close enough to the latter pole that you wouldn’t be surprised to find a coin slot behind his ear. That show, Petty performed half of Greatest Hits, generously playing them the way we remember them. All night long he gracefully strutted and stumbled across stage, mock directing or air-playing along with the Heartbreakers and twisting his body and twirling outstretched arms like an untrained interpretive dancer. The show was pure celebration, a victory lap by a then 56-year-old who, as it turned out, still had plenty of race left to run. By the evening’s patriotic climax, we were all floating along in that Greatest Hits orb along with Petty and the Heartbreakers.
For all these reasons, when I listen to Greatest Hits, I get that night back in full. It’s a connection I value—a link back to a time when 31 didn’t seem old … more like ancient. I close my eyes and I’m lying barefoot and shirtless all over again on a blanket between two people who were supposed to be lifelong friends—a plan that fell through when they swapped coasts, got married and started a family, and we gradually stopped calling each other. I remember collapsing together into a pile from exhaustion after dancing, our chests heaving, and our hearts still young and blind enough to believe that that encore and summer might last forever.
The record stops, I open my eyes, and I’m back. And I smile.
As I get a little older, even if 31 really isn’t all that old yet, I begin more and more to understand what Petty, that eternal blonde boy of summer, and maybe even Big Nick and that camper van couple (who, by the way, slept through the show) seem to already know. Most of the time the present suits me just fine. But some days, there’s nothing sweeter than reliving our greatest hits.
What Are You Doin’ in My Decade?
By Michael Roffman
Artwork by Jacob Livengood (Purchase Prints + More)
“But then she looks me in the eye and says, ‘We’re gonna last forever.'” — Tom Petty, 1979
“I can’t stop, I can’t sleep/ Well, I gotta different crush every other week.” — Paul Sprangers, 2013
Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever time travel in my lifetime. Despite my best wishes, stemming from an unhealthy obsession with H.G. Wells and Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future trilogy, I did not invent the time machine. Granted, I still believe there’s ample hope for any scientist who can tinker with black holes, radio wave signals, and brain computerization, but really, my own personal hopes of venturing into the past — ahem, the 1970s specifically — remain a prominent fixture of my pure imagination. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from trying, and in some respects, I’ve found success. The real kicker is that it doesn’t involve plutonium.
My travels, instead, revolve around three records by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: their 1976 self-titled debut, 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It!, and 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes. All on vinyl, of course. Call me delusional, but the second that needle hits and Petty huffs and puffs the verse off “Rockin’ Around (With You)”, I’m in my pop’s Trans Am, cruising the streets, and running my fingers through my wavy head of hair. Everything’s brown, my wraparound rearview window boxes the distant city skyline, and my bruised jacket’s on the passenger seat, saving a spot for my girlfriend. We’re going steady, I think, and tonight’s the night.
Everything I know about the ’70s is from pop culture. I was born in ’84, and although so much of the ’70s decor and architecture carried over, especially in my then gentrifying South Florida neighborhood, I never walked into any bar like Randall “Pink” Floyd, camped outside a venue for Styx tickets, or ditched school for a KISS concert in Detroit. Of course, I’ve attempted to recreate all of these moments in the 21st century to depressing results — yeah, I’m no Jason London, Styx was awful at the racetrack, and Gene Simmons’ wires actually malfunctioned at Cobo Hall back 2009 — but I’ve never once lived a second of the actual ’70s.
So, why does it feel like it? Why do I race back to these fictional memories every time I put on a deep cut like “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)” or whenever some nostalgic soul throws on “Listen to Her Heart” at my dive bar’s jukebox? These are things I’ve been thinking about lately while revisiting Petty, and I think so much of it has to do with the themes he framed decades ago. The Heartbreakers’ first three albums remain bright milestones of escapist rock ‘n’ roll, fully stocked with fantastical paradigms of teenage boyhood. Each album bottles up a time when our hearts are full and always ready to be spent on anyone with the right eyes.
Charged with trademark ’70s rhythms and flavors, courtesy of guitarist wunderkind Mike Campbell and cinematic organist Benmont Tench, Petty consistently waxes on and on about his trials and tribulations with young love. On “The Wild One, Forever”, the oft-forgotten jewel of his self-titled debut and arguably his earliest mission statement, Petty loses his mind by insisting that “Somethin’ I saw in your eyes/ Told me right away/ That you were gonna have to be mine/ The strangest feeling came over me down inside/ No matter what it takes/ I’ll never get over how good it felt.” He himself is nostalgic in this song, concluding: “Baby, those few hours linger on in my head forever.”
These personal anecdotes litter his earlier (and greatest) output, and while they read rather sensational or overtly cinematic on paper, they’re not in the actual song. They’re honest confessions that mirror our inhibitions and personal fears as a male teenager. Two albums later, Petty would master these feelings on “Here Comes My Girl”, his finest four and a half minutes, saying everything with very little (“But when she puts her arms around me”) and speaking truths without being too assertive (“Hey, here comes my girl”). Admittedly, I gushed about this song earlier this week, and once again I’ll reference Rolling Stone‘s Ariel Swartley, who just brilliantly summed up the song years ago by writing: “It might as well be Christmas and heaven and summer vacation all at once.”
And what do all of those holidays mean to teenagers? The world. That’s the point of view Petty sees from, and it’s a line of vision any warm-blooded male tries to revisit again and again. Just re-listen to “Even the Losers”, a feel-good anthem to anyone who’s ever been shut down previously. Once more, Petty paints the perfect night, “Well it was nearly summer, we sat on your roof/ Yeah we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon.” This isn’t a story about adults; no, it’s a portrait of teenage rebellion. That’s why it’s so funny when Petty wraps it up by singing, “It’s such a drag when you live in the past.” Well, okay, Tom, but isn’t that what most of your listeners are doing already?
Perhaps that’s why I feel as if I’m traveling through time with Petty’s music. I’m simply combing through my own teenage fantasies with a ’70s sheen. I don’t think I’m alone in doing that. Even today’s crop of songwriters do the same thing. Free Energy’s Paul Sprangers practically lives in the ’70s, complete with tight jeans, baseball jackets, and high-top sneakers. Musically, he’s made it no secret that he’s also a scholar of Petty. A couple of years back, we spoke prior to the release of Free Energy’s sophomore album, Love Sign, and I asked him about the influence of American rock ‘n’ roll and its past legends. His response was very telling:
Don’t you think it’s weird that there isn’t more music like that? [Tom] Petty is a huge influence on this record, too. He wrote some of the catchiest songs in the canon of American rock. I wonder why more people don’t try to emulate it or use it as a starting point, at the very least. I tend to agree with a lot of people who say “Rock is dead,” because it is, you know?
That album’s gem, “Dance All Night”, certainly subscribes to the nostalgic teenage fanaticism of Petty’s early days. Listen to the way Sprangers ruminates on the night, asking: “What do you want? How do you feel? Save me some time.” Similar to Petty, he’s propelled by the sweeping guitar and keys, and it’s all so romantic. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was my favorite song of that year, namely for the way it “took me back.” I had just proposed to my girlfriend, ready for the universal truths and responsibilities that come with marriage, and that song took me back to dizzier times.
In other words, “Dance All Night” tapped into Petty’s territory, a time when love wasn’t so certain and said uncertainty was as addicting as sweet, sweet candy — tasty but not without its consequences. It’s a time when life was simple and you only cared to worship sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll while avoiding anything remotely severe at all costs — y’know, like teachers, grades, parents … authority. But once you leave teenage life behind, authority becomes commonplace, and you’ve either bought in or attempted to stay in the past. While most frown upon the latter, the rearview mirror is still a nice and easy respite from the great wide open of mundanity ahead.
That’s why I’ll always have the ’70s. Even if I never did.
By Dusty Henry
Artwork by Kailyn Boehm (Buy Prints + More)
It’s midnight and eight of us are packed into a six-passenger Sedan, cruising down Highway 99 in pursuit of 12-egg omelets. Street lights zip by, familiar road signs glow eerily in the dark, and I’m surrounded by some of my closest friends. Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” plays on the stereo and everyone else is singing along and having an “I feel infinite” moment while I cower in the back having an “I feel like shit” moment. I wish it weren’t like this, but it takes restraint for me not to lunge forward and skip the track. Fortunately, I’m extremely passive and instead ask my then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-fiancée if she can get them to change it.
The first time I can remember hearing “Wildflowers” was August 9th, 1997; I was seven years old. I waited at the bottom of the outdoor staircase behind our house, decked out in an ivory tux, worried that the sun was going to melt the copious amounts of gel in my hair. My mom descended the steps looking radiant in her flowing wedding gown. My grandfather and I each took one of her arms and walked her down the grassy aisle; our golden retriever followed. It’s about as adorable as it sounds. It wasn’t even Petty’s version that I heard that day, but a rendition by our family friend Willy playing solo acoustic. For a while at least, I’d associate the song with happiness. That song meant I was getting a dad and a brother. It meant my mom had well-earned joy. It meant we were going to be a family.
It’s pretty widely accepted at this point that divorce is hard on kids, and how could it not be? Their foundation is being ripped apart. But what does it mean when divorce happens when you’re an adult, when you don’t even live in the same city as your parents? Whenever I start to feel sad or helpless about my parents’ divorce, it’s quickly followed by telling myself, “Suck it up. You’re a grown man. You’re fine.” It’s this notion that childish things need to be put to the side, and for some reason, I’ve grouped in “post-divorce sadness” as part of that. I even feel foolish writing about it, like it shouldn’t “matter.” It should be easier to move on when so much of my life exists without seeing my parents every day. But in the rare moments when I’m honest with myself, I know it’s not.
So, naturally I’ve avoided “Wildflowers” over the past few years. Why would I punish myself by listening to it? But lately the song has crept into my mind. Certain lyrics will get stuck in my head. “Run away, go find a lover.” “You belong somewhere you feel free.” “Go away, somewhere bright and new.” And I’ve started to realize that “Wildflowers” never really was a happy song. It was never a love song about coming together; it’s a song about leaving. And so much of that feeling comes from the context of Petty himself.
This isn’t the young guy from Damn the Torpedoes crooning spry tunes like “Even the Losers” and “Here Comes My Girl” or wailing on “Refugee”. Petty has seen more, done more, and been changed over the years. If he’d written a song like “Wildflowers” in his younger years, it would lack the earnestness that makes it so great. There’s a gravitas to Petty’s voice in 1994 that lets him get away with cheesy lines like “You belong among the wildflowers/ You belong on a boat out at sea.” Knowing that Wildflowers the album came out just a few years before Petty’s own divorce makes the song feel like a premonition or like he’s accepted what’s soon to come. It’s nurturing rather than spiteful. The narrator wants his love to find peace and happiness, wherever that means. It’s a comforting sentiment for me until you get to the line “You belong somewhere close to me.”
Just like any child at any age, I had to learn that divorce doesn’t mean the end of everything. It just means things change. A simple enough idea that takes forever to process, made all the more complicated by post-adolescent overthinking. I still have my parents and my brother. We’re all okay. It would be selfish for me to try to hold onto some ideal that things have to stay the same. If they weren’t finding happiness in their relationship, they deserve to go away “somewhere bright and new.” But I don’t think these gut-wrenching feelings will ever fully go away. Each time I schedule whose house to go to on holidays or coordinate events so that my parents can spend as little time in the same room as possible, my mind drifts into those same emotions.
So, here I am sitting in the back of a cramped Sedan, sitting next to an amazing woman who I’m absolutely sure I want to be with. All logic and personal experiences tell me I should doubt love, that I should never be sure of anything. But I don’t want to stomach that notion. Despite what I think Tom Petty is telling me, I don’t want to leave to hang out with flowers or some bullshit. I do want her close with me. When your main example of how to be in a relationship effectively fails, having self-doubt seems inevitable. But if I’m going to really take Tom Petty’s advice, then I know I too deserve to be somewhere “I feel free.” And that’s with her. It’s time I let go of everything else.
Born to Be a Wildflower
By Ryan Bray
Artwork by Steven Fiche (Buy Prints + More)
Tom Petty only comes out in the summer.
My love of Tom Petty is an on-again, off-again summertime fling. It always has been. For all of the hours I’ve logged listening to his music, I can’t think of one time when Petty’s nasally, Southern drawl chirped in my ear when the weather dipped below 65 degrees. His pastoral brand of wide-eyed heartland rock taps into something truly American, but the backdrop isn’t one of snowy landscapes and frostbit fingers. Conversely, I don’t have a single memory of his music that doesn’t involve sunshine or driving with the windows down. And while I have no way of knowing for sure, I’m willing to guess that a lot of people feel the same way. Let’s face it, Petty songs are musical snowbirds. They fly south for the winter but take glorious flight in the summer months.
Case in point, there’s a calm over the beach at Falmouth Heights as I write this. The sun is retiring for the day, spilling itself into a pinkish hue across the horizon. It’s an image fit for one of those tacky summer postcards you see hanging on racks in just about every store on Cape Cod. The sand is cool but dry, and there’s the slightest breeze gently pushing the smell of salt water trough the air. Although it’s getting late, it’s easy to get lost in it all when all the elements really lock in. Thankfully Petty’s voice, on cue, as if sensing the situation, chimes in through my iPod and brings me back down to Earth.
“It’s time to move on,” he murmurs placidly. “Time to get goin’. What lies ahead I have no way of knowing.”
For the uninitiated, that’s “Time to Move On”, the third track from Wildflowers. It’s just one of a seemingly endless number of Tom Petty cuts that sound like it was destined to be the soundtrack for sharing a joint with your best friend or a twilight ride on a warm summer night, but Wildflowers has more of these kinds of tracks than most of the singer’s other records. Released in 1994, Wildflowers captures Petty’s knack for reveling in that fun, easy-going milieu almost perfectly. More than a record, it’s an outward celebration of Petty’s cult of personality. It’s as much a testament to his stature as rock music’s king of laid-back cool as it is of his mastery of an insatiable three-minute pop song.
I feel a closer kinship with Wildflowers than I do with any of Tom Petty’s other records. I don’t really know why, but I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that I grew up with it. My parents can regale me with stories about Damn the Torpedoes, but Wildflowers was my generation’s Petty record, tucked in there amongst the Pearl Jams, Green Days, and STPs that were running the mainstream rock radio game in 1994. But there’s more behind my love of the record than arrogant generational pride. In fact, the biggest reason behind my appreciation for the record is much simpler. It’s got great songs. Petty’s biggest attribute is his cross-generational appeal. Your parents love him, your buddies love him, people half your age love him. And in another 10 of 15 years, a whole new generation of kids will be digging them some Tom Petty, too. They’ll find themselves sitting on a porch listening to “You Don’t Know How It Feels” because, let’s be honest, that’s the end all, be all of lazy Sunday porch rock songs. If they’re in a more purebred classic rock sort of mood, they’ll find their way to “You Wreck Me”. If they need a cooldown, the record’s title track is so light and breezy it could lull you into a relaxing sleep.
Okay, so Wildflowers has some solid singles. But what Petty record doesn’t boast at least one or two classic rock staples? One of the few knocks on Petty is that despite his ability to light the world on fire with killer singles, his records, on the whole, are uneven. But Wildflowers debunks this theory pretty resolutely. In fact, Grantland‘s Steven Hyden, in his excellent inventory of Petty’s illustrious career, actually crunched the numbers. Hyden posits that on the average Petty record, half of the songs are great, 30 percent are good, and 20 percent are filler. A quick run through Petty’s back catalog will show you that, amazingly enough, those numbers are pretty spot on. And while Wildflowers doesn’t hit these metrics quite on the head, it’s pretty close. There’s probably six or seven good to great songs, a small handful of solid tunes, and still a few others that sputter a bit. That might sound like a mixed bag, but I promise you most bands would kill for a record where they could bat .700 or better. Petty and the Heartbreakers do it on the reg.
Wildflowers’ opening four tracks, as previously discussed, get the record off to an almost pitch-perfect start. Then it starts to thin, if only slightly. Three of the next four tracks, the daydreamy “It’s Good to Be King”, the smooth but sedate “Only a Broken Heart”, and the fingerpicking acoustic blues number “Don’t Fade on Me” are as slack and leisurely as the opening quarter of the record is tight and focused. They’re not bad, but they wander. Thankfully, “Honey Bee”, sandwiched in the middle in the seven spot, tightens things up when things threaten to drift off into stoned slumber.
Then the record gets its second wind. “Hard on Me” is a generous slice of the kind of easy-going pop rock that Petty has long built his bones on, while “Cabin Down Below” is a cool slab of ballsy boogie rock. Then there’s the one-two punch of “To Find a Friend” and “A Higher Place”, two songs that strike different tones but together bring the energy back up to where the record’s opening tracks left off. Then it sort of mellows out sweetly (“House in the Woods”, “Crawling Back to You”, “Wake Up Time”), which is fine. After all, Petty seems like the kind of guy who would finish his beer and exit the party quietly through the backdoor rather than flame out and cause a scene, no?
Wildflowers is a record that ebbs and flows, but when you put all the pieces together, it strikes a remarkably even keel. It runs hot and cold in all the right spots. Like a few cold ones on the beach, it just feels so damn good. Fortunately, there’s still a few more weeks of summer left to keep the buzz going.