This is the Tom Petty I like – full of attitude and spunk, with a touch of meanness or bitterness. Like basically everyone, he mellowed out significantly with age, which is the version of him I’m much more familiar with.
But this is still one of those records I have weird hangups about because of what critics (older than me) and even Petty himself have said about it, or the band’s sound at the time. This is not new wave. (Fortunately, RYM agrees.) And I have no idea why some people have described their early music as such. (They did make some in the ’80s.) Listen to actual new wave, this doesn’t sound like it. It’s also far from punk, not that anyone has ever labeled it as such. (To the best of my knowledge.) In fact, Petty reminds me of a less literate Elvis Costello with a lot more reverence (at this stage) for tradition – he’s somewhere on the spectrum between heartland and punk – or, as applied to Costello, between pub rock and punk – but much closer to tradition than revolution. (Costello became much more reverent to tradition as he aged, of course.) Still, there’s an edge here that Springsteen rarely had and Bob Seger never had (to the best of my knowledge).
And so I find it much more appealing than contemporary heartland rock. This is still nostalgia, to a great degree, but it’s nostalgia in modern clothes, with the members occasionally suggesting they actually contemporary music. And I find that a lot easier to take than pure nostalgia. (I.e. Seger.)
As others have noted, the deep cuts are mostly not anywhere near on the level of the singles, but the singles are pretty strong, so it’s not entirely fair to entirely dismiss the album tracks.
I have heard very few of Petty’s albums – as Greatest Hits sufficed when I was a bigger fan of his, a couple decades ago – but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of the best ones.