The Petty Archives

Music: Record Reviews
By Raoul Hernandez
The Austin Chronicle - Friday, December 8, 2000

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers | Anthology: Through the Years (MCA) | ★★★
On 1995's Playback, a 6-CD box set most fans agree would be almost perfect as four longer discs, MCA made a case for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers being one of the Great American Bands. Originally from Gainesville, Florida, much closer to Georgia than Miami, Petty and his crew of Dixie-fried longhairs moved to L.A. in the mid-Seventies to pick up the standard of musical forebears like Roger McGuinn's Byrds and ex-Byrd and Floridian Gram Parsons' Flying Burrito Brothers. Petty's worship of British Invasion pop and rootsy American music didn't manifest itself so much as an alt.country twang as it did what Playback titles its first disc, "The Big Jangle." Combined with the collection's second and third CDs, Playback works best as a hip, well-chosen hits compilation rather than a B-sides catch-all, which it dissembles itself into on the last three discs (aptly titled "The Other Sides," "Through the Cracks," and "Nobody's Children"). The new 2-CD Anthology: Through the Years takes the blueprints of Playback's first three sides and refocuses them slightly into a game best-of collection for non-completists. Given that the band already had a Greatest Hits back in '93, consumers now have the choice of a single, double, or sextuple configuration of prime Petty-ness, from "American Girl" through to "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Through the Years unwisely substitutes "The Wild One, Forever" from the Heartbreakers' 1976 debut for the box set's Damn the Torpedos gem "Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)," while adding the obligatory subpar new track, "Surrender," but otherwise it stays close to Playback -- down to the Full Moon Fever outtake "Waiting for Tonight." Unlike Greatest Hits, on the other hand, the new Anthology is smart to include raucous album tracks like "Too Much Ain't Enough" and "Change of Heart." With plenty of room to spare on both discs, Anthology: Through the Years could've easily included overlooked catalog highlights like "Deliver Me," from 1982's underappreciated Long After Dark or another track or two from the group's high-water mark, Southern Accents ('85), but then only hard-core fans will nitpick, and they, like liner-notes rock critic-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe, might be better off making their own mix tape. Then again, Crowe calls that a "hideous undertaking," which plays right into the hands of MCA's latest repackaging of great songs from one of the great American bands.