Album Review

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She's the One

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Songs and Music From the Motion Picture She's the One

When Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers returned home to Los Angeles from extensive touring after the fall '94 release of Wildflowers, the last thing on the bandleader's mind was making another album. But Petty's plans to take a musical break were altered when he saw the rough cut of the upcoming film She's the One. Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen), the film's writer, director and male lead, wanted Petty to compose the score, contribute three songs and select from songs submitted by other artists to fill out the soundtrack. Petty liked the movie so much he accepted Burns' invitation, then surprised himself by popping out one new tune after another, nine in all.

In the end, Petty chose not to use any outside submissions, but he did record a pair of songs from contemporary writers (a rarity for him): Beck's wry lament "Asshole", which Petty presents in a measured, ironically genteel arrangement, as if it were a cover of a song from Rubber Soul, and Lucinda Williams' "Change the Locks", which the band pushes across with the sinewy power of the Stones circa 1971-72.

The musical topography of She's the One is dominated by the twin peaks that comprise the album's beginning and end. On the opening "Walls (Circus)", Campbell's Byrdsy 12-string Rickenbacker and Lindsey Buckingham's signature backing vocals brighten the sonic environment as Petty drops an intriguingly enigmatic lyric into a track that starts out big and just keeps getting bigger. The album's culminating track is the climactic "Hung Up and Overdue", which derives its rhythmic tension from Ringo Starr's seductive behind-the-beat drumming and its melodic thrills from the gorgeous multitracked voices of Buckingham and Carl Wilson. The epic-scaled arrangement ebbs and flows teasingly before billowing into a heavenly finale that sounds like a collaboration between the Beach Boys of Pet Sounds and the Beatles of Abbey Road.

Between these two towering productions are seven more originals, a cue from the score (another cue serves as the album's postscript) and the two covers, along with a straightforward rendering of "Walls" and an alternate version of the hopeful centerpiece ballad "Angel Dream". Presently I'm under the spell of "Supernatural Radio", on which the Heartbreakers show up Crazy Horse at their own game, progressively increasing the instrumental heat as they take the elongated track to a rolling boil.

While Burns' film is set on the East Coast, Petty's album is West Coast in tone and spirit, with the upbeat but ominous "California" its most literal evocation and Beach Boys references all over the place. But as this record reveals itself, California metamorphoses from a cultural/geographical setting into a palpable metaphor for lost idealism and ruined dreams. These songs, originals and covers alike, speak of disappointment and betrayal, bitterness and revenge, unfinished business and the desperate desire for a second chance.

This unexpected, impromptu album turns out to be one of Petty's edgiest and most provocative recordings. In the artist's rich and sprawling body of work, it would seem to fall midway between the Heartbreakers' underrated 1987 workout Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), for its loose-limbed dynamics and sustained tension, and Petty's anthem-rich Full Moon Fever. Not half bad for just showing up and winging it.