At least some over-40s can still conduct themselves with some kind of dignity: "Wild Flowers", Tom Pettys tenth album, and second without the Heartbreakers credited, has that increasingly rare commodity in spades. Hes crafted a slew of (re)fine(d), melodic and mellow songs with real depth in their sparing lyricism and arrangements, and the sketchiest of celebrity support crews - only a Heartbreaker or two, a Beach Boy and Primal Scream/Ride/Black Crowes producer George Drakoulias in evidence from the big names brigade - no stray Travelling Wilburys, not even Jeff Lynnes beard. Michael Kamen adds suitably moody orchestrations on several tracks, notably the coda on "Its Good To Be King", which almost hits Philip Glass levels of broody moodiness. Not earthshattering, but "Wild Flowers" has a quiet grace that, compared to the suffocating bloodymindedness of what surrounds it, cant help but be refreshing.
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (Gone Gator/Warner Bros.)
Petty's debut album married Byrdsian jangle and harmony to the kind of abrupt, sparse new wave structures found on the first Elvis Costello long player, released two months later. (They even conform to the same half-hour blueprint.) In Petty's case, what has followed makes his debut seem somewhat crude and primitive by comparison: the songs are thin and insubstantial when set against those collected on "Damn The Torpedoes", the shoebox production half a world away from the polished Wilbury overload of "Full Moon Fever". These are Springsteenesque tales of danger and escape, dimensions cut down to diorama proportions, highly accomplished pub rock/bar band music but nothing more. It's all a bit "Old Grey Whistle Test", shorn of anything complicated or elaborate. But at the end of all this average pleasantness comes "American Girl", so alien to its surroundings that it could have come from another planet: three minutes of supercharged riffage, and a song so strong that it validates any claims for this album's greatness all by itself. But maybe there are more accommodating places to hear it than here, for example Petty's thoughtfully compiled "Greatest Hits" compilation. And there's more than enough empty space here for Warners to have slung on Petty's second album, "You're Gonna Get It", as well, instead of reissuing it as a separate CD.
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS Live (Zima Music)
Although it doesn’t say so on the cover of my Mexican edition, this DVD (perhaps somewhat needlessly a double, since it runs for less than 150 minutes even including the eight bonus tracks) contains a Petty performance recorded for the American television series “Soundstage” in 2003. It’s pleasant enough viewing. Sound and picture quality are very fine, and the setlist mixes original with a surprising array of covers, including “Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Born In Chicago”, “Red Rooster” (sic), “Carol”, “Not Fade Away” and “I Got A Woman”. I’d never pegged Petty as a blues enthusiast, but he plays them commendably here. There’s little in the way of obvious hits for fairweather fans like me, save “I Won’t Back Down”, “Refugee” and the Travelling Wilburys tune “Handle With Care” – not even an “American Girl”. It’s all amiable enough stuff, albeit perhaps almost too comfortable to sustain its running time. Strangely, what for me was the set’s finest moment, a witty take on “Yer So Bad”, was buried amidst the extras, having failed to make the cut for the two hour-long shows drawn from the band’s performance. Available in a bewildering variety of permutations, if the sound and picture quality of the UK release matches that of my copy it’s well worth the £4.47 Amazon are asking for it at the moment, but probably not a whole lot more.