Wildflowers & All the Rest (Super Deluxe Edition)

Wildflowers & All the Rest (Super Deluxe Edition)

For an artist who built his career on a certain degree of stubbornness, Wildflowers wasn’t just an admission of vulnerability; it was like standing naked in front of an audience. By the mid-1990s, after two decades of marriage, Petty was heading toward divorce—a personal cataclysm that would fuel much of 1999’s Echo. But you could hear the heartbreak coming on 1994’s Wildflowers, his second solo album, and one that features some of his most somber tunes: The title track finds him pining for a kind of beauty you can’t possess without ruining it, while the heartache in “To Find a Friend” is self-evident. “It’s good to be king/And have your own way,” Petty sings on “It’s Good to Be King.” Sure—but the subtext here is that it’s a kingdom of one. The magic, of course, is that despite the effort and attention that was put into the creation of Wildflowers, the album sounds natural and unforced—a sense of intuitiveness attributed, in part, to the influence of new producer Rick Rubin. Petty was writing from a quieter place now, and finding nuance in his solitude. And he was in a productive state of mind: Rubin said Petty once paused the tape between a demo playback and wrote an entirely new song, end to end, in a few minutes. The Rubin sessions would ultimately yield dozens of songs, and while Petty originally planned to make Wildflowers a double album, Warner Bros. didn’t think it warranted the length. But the material was solid, and in late 2020, those lost tracks were finally issued as part of Wildflowers & All the Rest, a massive (and massively satisfying) collection that also includes home-recorded demos, as well as several live tracks. The material on the original, double-album version is robust: “Leave Virginia Alone” mines the same ambivalent nostalgia as “Wildflowers,” while “Something Could Happen” is a companion to “Wake Up Time.” And “Confusion Wheel” is a bluesy, almost Appalachian-sounding song that showed the band’s still-sharp teeth. But for an artist who sounded poised even when he was trying to come off as casual, it’s the demos that hit deepest, particularly “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)” and “Hung Up and Overdue”—both of them stark, beautiful songs that show a side of Petty he’d never quite shown before. Longtime Heartbreakers member Benmont Tench would later describe the mixed emotions he felt hearing all these Wildflowers tracks, decades after they were recorded: “Of course, listening to this stuff was a little bittersweet,” Tench says. And yet: “The discovery, and the fact that there is so much good music, and [that] it’s not some leftover curiosity that you want to hear one time—that’s the sweet part.”

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