Moms make their leftovers into casseroles, while record companies make theirs into soundtracks. But not every artist sees movies merely as a means to convert non-LP tracks into quick cash; some see soundtracks as a way to stretch out. So Eddie Vedder jams with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for Dead Man Walking, Eric Clapton embraces Babyface for Phenomenon, and Neil Young plays at being Sonic Youth on the Dead Man soundtrack.
Still, no one has had quite as much fun with the possibilities posed by movie music as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do with Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She’s The One. Built around songs Petty composed for the Edward Burns film, it isn’t a pure soundtrack release — 5 of its 15 tunes don’t appear in the picture — so much as a way to provide a taste of the film’s music while still delivering something that feels like a Tom Petty album. In other words, it lets Petty have his cake and eat it, too.
There are more than a couple layers to that cake, though. In addition to giving us a sense of the movie’s characters through the songs he wrote for the film (a soon-to-be-released romantic comedy starring Friends‘ Jennifer Aniston), Petty offers other material that could be taken as a continuation of the story — or as a hint to what he thinks of the people on screen. Moreover, two tunes are offered in multiple versions, with enough differences between them to muddy the message even further.
But that’s typical of Petty, whose sly possum grin sometimes seems to suggest he’s enjoying a joke the rest of us aren’t in on. Because he comes on so earnest and unaffected, it’s easy to take his work at face value, assuming, for instance, that the love song ”Walls (No. 3)” is simply about a guy waiting for a woman to open up to him.
Maybe that’s all it is, too. Poke around a bit, though, and you’ll find yourself wondering about the part of the chorus that says she has ”a heart so big/It could crush this town.” Unless you’re dating Godzilla, town crushing is not the sort of thing you’re likely to whisper sweet nothings about. But it’s hard to tell what exactly Petty is saying about this woman.
He does his best to distract you, of course, packing an alternate version of the song, ”Walls (Circus),” full of carnivallike keyboard and guitar parts. But there’s something inscrutable about the tune even without the Lennonesque piano and Fleetwood Mac-style harmonies.
Equally oblique is the dreamy ”Hung Up and Overdue,” which teeter-totters between pessimistic verses and the inexplicably optimistic chorus, ”We’re overdue for a dream come true.”
Maybe the smart thing would be to quit trying to decode the content and simply enjoy the album’s sound. Sure, there’s fun to be had with the lyrics, particularly when they’re as deadpan funny as in ”California” and ”Zero From Outer Space.” But the music is just as entertaining — and a whole lot more straightforward. After all, you don’t have to be a rock scholar to get a kick out of the way ”Zero” takes its cues from Bringing It All Back Home-era Dylan, or appreciate how Petty’s remake of Beck’s ”A–hole” (one of the album’s three covers) uses soft-focus Beatle-isms to underscore the bitterness of its chorus.
Besides, Petty sounds like he’s having the time of his life, playing spot-the-influence with tracks like ”Angel Dream,” with its fingerpicked guitar, murmuring strings, and watery, reverb-drenched percussion that evokes an entire catalog of Simon & Garfunkel records. He even takes a stab at lounge jazz with ”Airport.” She’s the One may not be the most serious album Tom Petty has ever made, but, in a way, that makes it one of his most enjoyable. A-‘