New Tom Petty album is essential listening

Cecilia Zahm, Staff Writer

Tom Petty’s masterpiece album “Wildflowers” was released in 1994 to rave reviews. It was Petty’s first solo album without his band, the Heartbreakers. The original concept was to produce double album, but the record company insisted on editing out songs to make it more marketable.

Despite this, Petty still held out hope for releasing his dream project, an extended version of “Wildflowers” that would be truer to his original artistic vision. Unfortunately, Petty tragically passed away in 2017 at just 66 years old before he could finish this plan. 

Petty’s dream project was not forgotten after his death. The singer’s bandmates and family took it upon themselves to compile and release “Wildflowers & All the Rest,” which came out on Oct. 16. The album has two pieces: the original music from “Wildflowers” and ten new songs that include previously unreleased music and alternate versions.  

“Wildflowers & All the Rest” begins with the original 1994 version. The songs aren’t the upbeat rock and roll hits that Petty is often associated with. The music is mellow and vulnerable, and it shows a different side of Petty. Electric guitars and heavy drums have been stripped away in most songs, which allow the lyrics and emotion to shine through.  

You can tell just by listening that this album is about Petty’s uncertainty and loneliness at that point of his lifeIn “To Find a Friend” Petty sings about his impending divorce: “And the days went by like paper in the wind. Everything changed, and then changed again. It’s hard to find a friend.” It’s clear that the artist is trying to make sense of the world around him with his music as his guide. 

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “It’s Good to Be King.” It deals with the artist’s complex feelings towards being famous, which is a unique perspective in itself. In this song, Petty sings about escaping to a world where he isn’t a rock star, “Excuse me if I have some place in my mind, where I go time to time.” 

What makes songs like these so good is how authentic yet ambiguous they are. These qualities are present in all of Petty’s songs, and they allow every listener to connect with the music in a way that speaks to them. 

“Wildflowers” isn’t only filled with sad music. The song “You Wreck Me” is like a gem of assuredness and care-free exhilaration in the midst of the rest of the album.  

The last track of the record is melancholy piece about the singer’s mid-life crisis and regrets, but it still manages to stir up a sense of hope toward the end. In it, Petty sings to himself, “You feel like a poor boy, a long way from home. You’re just a poor boy, a long way from home. And it’s wake up time. Time to open up your eyes, and rise and shine.” 

The albums second part, “All the Rest,” is a welcome extension. The songs on this half were all recorded at the same time as the first, they just didn’t make the cut for the original album.  

The first track, “Something Could Happen,” is sad and dreamyIts mysterious instrumentals make it captivating to listen to 

Petty utilized his storytelling skills the most in “Harry Green.” It’s the depressing story of a friend Petty had in high school who stopped him from being beat up. In the song, Petty is told to be wary of Harry Green because, He’s not what he seems. Petty sings in response, “Harry Green was alright by me.” 

The stand-out song of the new music is “Leave Virginia Alone,” which sounds classic. It’s the most upbeat of all the songs, something you could casually play and jam out to. 

Wildflowers & All the Rest” is a great introduction to Tom Petty because it combines his (arguably) best album with previously unheard songs. For longtime fans it is essential listening. I wouldn’t say that “All the Rest” has my all-time favorite Petty songs on it, but it was interesting to hear the full vision for the album and the new releases complement the original “Wildflowers” album very well.