Wildflowers finds Tom Petty at the top of his game. Having finally achieved the mega-success he always deserved with Full Moon Fever, Petty no longer had anything to prove. I can't help but identify these songs with a mellow Tom Petty, although mellow probably isn't the best word for a musician who can still rock like few others. There's definitely a softer quality to this music, however; the frenetic energy of earlier classics such as American Girl and Refugee are great, but Petty's music has matured over the years into something that transcends what has come before. One cannot help but notice the obvious influence of Petty's Traveling Wilburys band mates in these songs. Dylan's influence has been there for many years, but the grace and soul of George Harrison's music wends its way through several of these tracks in a most telling way. Once again, Petty is stepping out without the formal participation of the Heartbreakers, but there's no absence of Mike Campbell to be found in these songs.
This 1994 album is packed with 15 quality tracks, totaling almost 63 minutes, showering Petty fans with an abundance of blessings. I believe You Don't Know How It Feels was the first single, but in my opinion this song pales in comparison to most of the other tracks collected here. Rocking tracks include You Wreck Me, the almost whimsical but undeniably fun Honey Bee, Cabin Down Below (espousing a driving beat with a slight country feel to it), and House in the Woods (get your Petty twang right here).
Time to Move On is, by lyrics and rhythm, a traveling song that hearkens to the ever-present open road to new experiences. To Find a Friend reminds me of Into the Great Wide Open from the album of the same name, but this song has a softer beat and a more emotional focus on the life-change being described; the chorus is as catchy as it is meaningful. Don't Fade On Me relies on minimalist guitar accompaniment to produce a song with many of the hallmarks of folk music, one with periodic touches of bluegrass-tinged twang. A Higher Place has the most foot-stomping energy of any song on the album, making it a song you will want to listen to over and over.
Some quite impressive tracks, such as the title track, feature a laid-back, soft style that contrasts significantly with earlier incarnations of Petty. It's Only a Broken Heart is a beautiful slow song that has Petty singing in a noticeably high register, one that does not allow for any of the nasal sounds Petty is known for. I've never heard another Petty song which compares to this one. Hard On Me is another slow, moving song with great lyrics and a wonderful sense of freely open vulnerability on Petty's part. Wake Up Time closes the album out in fine fashion. The piano plays a large part in this meaningful song about getting on with life after you realize your dreams are not going to come true. This song serves, to my mind, as a musical counterpoint to the maturity with which Petty has embraced his music and career at this point in his life.
I've saved the best for last, as two tracks on this album stand among the best of Petty's career. It's Good to be King is just a stellar track that describes life as it would be in a perfect world. Crawling Back to You is a song I love more each time I hear it; I think the lyrics to this song could have been better, yet it's one of those songs that have found a permanent slot in the CD player of my mind. Overall, despite a few weak lines scattered here and there, I can't help but believe that Wildflowers is Tom Petty's most impressive album by far.