Review: Tom Petty, ‘Finding Wildflowers’ – For “Completists” Only

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What a fiasco this Wildflowers – All The Rest rollout turned out to be. The blame falls squarely on his estate, namely his daughter Adria and his 2nd wife Dana who will essentially be known as Greed Heads from now on. 

Long before Petty passed away he was saying in interviews that he wanted to revisit his 1994 masterpiece Wildflowers. He had recorded enough material for a double-album but legendary Warner Bros. music man Lenny Waronker told him he thought it was too long and should be pared down to a single disc. It’s always the record company guys who ruin things. Petty wanted to go back and release the album in that original double-LP format.   Sadly, Petty died before the project was completed. Then his daughter got a lawyer to challenge his 2nd wife’s control and ownership of the estate. We all waited while the lawsuit played out to hear what was in the vaults especially around Wildflowers. Naturally that took years. 

Finally last year we got Wildflowers – All The Rest. I was delighted and popped for the Deluxe Edition that was four CDs long. I thought that had everything I could possibly want included. Well, everything but “Lonesome Dave” an outtake that was released already on American Treasure. I only later found out there was a 5 CD Super Deluxe edition that was $100 more. I’m not sure I would have sprung for that but it would have been nice to know about. There were several songs that were omitted that I felt should have been on All The Rest, which was essentially disc 2 of the double-LP version of Wildflowers that Petty had spoken about. I was rather vocal about the studio version of “Girl On L.S.D.” being omitted from All The Rest. But the folks who run the estate – his daughter and his 2nd wife – chose to hold that song and several others back and put them on the fifth disc, entitled Finding Wildflowers. Charging an extra $100 for a disc of early versions of songs, listed as an “alternative versions” on the album, seems to run counter to Petty’s lifelong commitment to his fans. He was the artist, when the record company wanted to increase the price of Hard Promises from the prevailing $8.98 a dollar more to $9.89, who threatened to name the album “Eight-Ninety-Eight.” Petty never wanted to gouge his fans. 

There were a lot of fans who did lay out the cash for the somewhat exclusive Super Deluxe. Then the Petty camp announced that the fifth disc, Finding Wildflowers was going to be released stand alone, for $20 bucks. While I felt shafted because I hadn’t been made aware of the fifth disc version until after it was released, I’ve now come to the realization that I’d be really, really pissed if I paid an extra $100 only to see that “exclusive” fifth disc released for $20. As it turns out, it worked for the best for me. But if on-line music chat rooms are to be believed Petty’s estate has pissed off a lot of his die-hard fans. File this one under “How to fuck up an artist’s legacy.” 

But enough about that. Let’s move on to the actual music on Finding Wildflowers. I have to admit that this disc, besides a handful of songs left off of All The Rest, is really for completist only. Once, a friend of mine was at the house having a night cap and I showed him the then-new Robert Plant boxset Nine Lives which I’d recently picked up. Despite previously owning all of the albums contained, I’d purchased the box in order to get all those tasty bonus tracks. My friend looked up at me incredulously and said, “Man, you’re quite an audiophile.” Actually what he meant to say was that I was a completist. I have an obsessive need to own an artist’s output in totality. Audiophiles have to have the absolute best sounding music – and I probably suffer from that malady as well – but for purposes of this post, I am a completist. Naturally, I had to have Finding Wildflowers. I’m not sure most people need this.  

The album is not a reimagining of Wildflowers containing early (or “alternative”) versions of every song in the same running order. Finding Wildflowers omits several songs from the original LP including “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “Time To Move On” to name a few. The early versions of songs that are on the album are close proximities to what ended up on the album. I didn’t hear too much that was revelatory. The band tightened the material up quite a bit on the released record. There’ll be a stray piano fill or a little sidebar jam on some of the tracks. It’s all fascinating if you’re into learning about an artist’s creative process, which I totally am but not everyone is. It shows you how they got from A to B.

In terms of stuff that I feel is exceptional, I’ve got to star with the outtake “You Saw Me Coming.” This is the absolute best thing on here. I’ve been listening to it since it was released as a teaser for the album. I heard somewhere that it was recorded long before the Wildflowers sessions… I think Stan Lynch is even on drums and he wasn’t on the Wildflowers album. The aforementioned “Girl On L.S.D.” is finally here in the studio version – although it sounds like it might be remixed slightly differently than the original B-side release. I know that it’s practically a novelty song, but I still love it. There is a studio version of “Drivin’ Down to Georgia” that I’d only heard live on the Live Anthology boxset. I dig the studio version but the Rock Chick felt it was too speeded up. There are acoustic driven version of “Cabin Down Below” and “You Wreck Me” that I really loved… but let’s face it the released version of “You Wreck Me” is not only definitive it’s one of the greatest songs Petty ever did. The acoustic “Cabin” is actually quite good and another track that everyone should check out. 

At the end of the day you’ve got 3 previously unreleased tracks: “You Saw Me Coming,” “Girl On LSD,” and “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” and two great alternative versions of previously released tracks: “Cabin Down Below (Acoustic Version)” and “You Wreck Me (Alternative Version)” that I feel are worth checking out here. Leave the rest to the completists. If this one disappoints you, you can always look forward to Petty’s upcoming Angel Dream, which is a reworking of the She’s The One soundtrack. It too will have a few unreleased songs, new album artwork and a different running order than the original…If you missed that soundtrack album – and many did – a lot of it grew out of the Wildflowers sessions and will be well worth looking into…

Cheers! 

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