A modified version of Songs and Music for the Motion Picture ‘She’s The One,’ Angel Dream reaffirms the continuity within Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ discography. With no repeats of tracks or instrumental incidental film music, it is now a full-fledged album by the late lamented rocker and his ever-so-loyal band (albeit one in transition as another drummer appears in addition to one-time charter member Stan Lynch). And the cohesion of the ‘new’ record mirrors the hard punch of its audio mix, thanks to long-time Petty sound guru Ryan Ulyate.
In this reconfigured form, including not only original material but also some choice covers, a tightly woven forty-two minutes allows the bandleader to alternately bare his soul and let it rock. Beginning with sweet acoustic tones of the title song—ultimately book-ending the album on a similar note with its instrumental corollary “French Disconnection”(both of which echo the namesake cut of Wildflowers)--this record radiates a confessional air from the very start. Yet the personal nature of “Grew Up Fast” is the mirror image of the melancholy fantasy of the opener, both in terms of the song itself and the full band versus stripped-down arrangements.
Lucinda Williams’ “Change The Locks” further drives home the immediacy of the work. Less an ambivalent take on celebrity, it’s more a (re)statement of Tom’s self-motivation and sense of purpose. Not to mention an indirect nod to his roots: has he ever so (affectionately) mimicked Mick Jagger’s singing? And driven by studio drummer Curt Bisquera’s loose-limbed playing, have he and the Heartbreakers even romped more gleefully through a track than on “Zero From Outer Space?” Then there’s this ever-so-sly kissoff in the form of a deceptively offhanded take on Beck’s character assassination, “Asshole,” topped off with Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham.
“One of Life’s Little Mysteries” both lightens the emotional mood and changes the instrumental flavor. The emphasis on Benmont Tench’s acoustic piano accompanies one of the most tongue-in-cheek numbers in this band’s canon this side of “Casa Dega” or “Heartbreakers Beach Party.” On the other hand, with a philosophical equanimity nearly casual to a fault, “Walls (No. 3)” hearkens directly to the economical sound of TP’s aforementioned 1994 solo LP, its dynamics leavened by a repeated refrain, steadfast rhythm, and a quick interval of harmonica from multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston (who had become a Heartbreaker himself just three years prior).
An ideal set-up for the latent danger described in J.J. Cale’s “Thirteen Days,” the edgy tone of the lyrics and singing there become further sharpened by Mike Campbell’s slide guitar. In a dramatic juxtaposition, “105 Degrees” is also memorable for the ensemble’s sure, quick shuffle, their collective motivation amplified when the bandleader ominously intones ‘Whadyawant—- Perfection?!’ The sleek action slows to a modified stomp on “Climb That Hill,” where Tom Petty suggests there’s a palpable element of mystery in his vocation.
Meanwhile, the noisy atmosphere arising from the longest cut here (at more than six minutes) only points up the purposeful placement of “Supernatural Radio (Extended Version)” as the penultimate number of the dozen. Unlike this literal-minded front cover (and booklet) art, its florid design hardly reflective of the subject’s image, such creative revision is rarely so valid as Angel Dream.