Sure, Tom Petty is a crusty old heavy-lidded nebbish. Originally a stoner, and now rock's perennial slacker, he makes dumb videos and possesses all the eloquence of Lurch. Which is why he's managed to be a pretty OK rocker for more than two decades. Whereas megastars in and out of retirement play futile catch-up games with the latest trends and end up as obscene parodies of themselves, Petty does his own thing. (Either he's an unambitious twit or he knows his limitations.) Like Ray Davies of the Kinks, Petty's trick has been to rip off and rework familiar riffs, melodies, and phrases. His latest album, the Rick Rubin-produced Wildflowers (Warner Brothers)--it's his second "solo" album, but the Heartbreakers are all over it--provides an excellent case in point. Crisply executed and shimmering with a weird classic-rock veneer, all of the album's 15 tunes are supercatchy, solidly and economically constructed, and completely unoriginal. Petty's inane, cliche-ridden lyrics will bother you if you let them, but the album's a real pleasure. I'm no apologist, but he's never claimed to be rock's messiah (or his generation's Morrissey), and when it comes to delivering the straight-up rock goods I can't think of anyone else who's done it as smoothly for as long. Wednesday, 7:30 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison; 559-1212 or 455-4500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Robert Sebree.