The Tom Petty I like recorded his best music between 1988 and 1992 in the so-called Wilburys Period, during which he released signature song “Free Fallin’” ( incredibly, his second American top ten if you discount the Stevie Nicks collaboration “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”) and recorded an album with the Traveling Wilburys that never stops giving up the yuks. Jeff Lynne produced all of them, and despite the lacquer Full Moon Fever actually sounds like beefed-up demos, i.e. a real solo album. Throw in trifles like “Zombie Zoo,” “The Apartment Song,” and twelve-string melancholia like “A Face in the Crowd,” and you’ve got the Petty album that even a skeptic like me can stand. Lynne’s trademarked use of six hundred multi-tracked acoustic guitars and descending keyboard lines squeeze the whine out of Petty’s larynx; with the tempos decreased, it sounds like he’s inhabiting the same song as the rest of the band, instead of gargling shit that throws you out of the thing altogether (“Don’t Come Around Here No More” is a sound in search of a singer). Into the Great Wide Open and Wildflowers all boast excellent songs. The former attempts to merge, with mixed success, the full Heartbreakers band with Lynne’s meticulous ethic; but the Heartbreakers and Petty, relaxed and confident in their songcraft, stretch power-pop and post-Wilburys strum into something approaching grace. I hope it’s not too pretentious to argue that out-of-nowhere gems like “You and I Will Meet Again,” “Two Gunslingers,” and “Too Good To Be True” show the kind of pliability (within the harmonics of conventional guitar music) that I expect from Luna: songs that could go anywhere, startle with unexpected imagery, and whose hooks insinuate.
This Wall Street Journal profile, released to tie in with promotion for his multi-disc live box set, shows the cranky Tom Petty of The Last DJ that’s earned him lots of disrespect lately. I don’t why the fuck he boasts about lack of airplay — when was the last time airplay made a Petty record into a hit? As I remarked on this thread, in the eighties Petty seemed more popular because MTV put his videos in constant rotation; most of his signature hits like “The Waiting,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” actually peaked somewhere in the top twenty. His actual album sales are no pox on John Coog’s. I wish I could say that Hard Promises and Long After Dark reward second listening like Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee do — and Coog at his peak never recorded an album as confused, sodden, and embarrassing as Southern Accents. Still, you need the second disk comp released in 2000 instead of the 1993 one that will remain his testament; the hits sound more interesting and variable surrounded by second and third minor singles.