Hypnotic Eye

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Reprise, 2014


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Pity the aging rockers. They keep making new albums, knowing that the new songs will never—can never—mean as much to their fans as the tunes they grew up with, and that younger listeners are more likely to steal their work than pay for it. Why bother?

At some point, hopefully, it stops being about having to prove (or re-establish) anything, and regains some of the purity of intention it once had—that drive to create, unburdened by expectations of any kind. Music for music’s sake.

Thirty-eight years into a remarkable career, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are hardly the next big thing, but since the 1994 departure of founding drummer Stan Lynch and 2002 exit of longtime bassist Howie Epstein (replaced by original bassist Ron Blair), the band’s lineup has stabilized and produced a series of excellent tours and a pair of strong late-career albums in 2010’s bluesy Mojo and the new disc Hypnotic Eye.

Touted as a return to the band’s harder-rocking roots, Hypnotic Eye kicks off in fine heavy-boogie style with the thumping, ringing, anthemic ”American Dream Plan B.” “Like a fool, I’m bettin’ on happiness,” sings Petty, summing up the irrational optimism at the heart of the American character, “I got a dream, I’m gonna fight ‘til I get it right.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As usual, most of the tunes are written solo by TP, but one—typically a scorching rocker—is a co-write with guitarist Mike Campbell. “Fault Lines” does not disappoint; Campbell’s lead guitar line is taut, snappy and memorable, and he and keyboard player extraordinaire Benmont Tench have a nice jam in the middle. The lyric is a dark, pointed self-examination of a complicated life. Up next, “Red River” is a hard-edged character sketch featuring a dreamy interlude that leads into a textbook surgical-strike solo from Campbell.

“Full Grown Boy” is an interesting diversion, a mellow, jazzy ballad with the Heartbreakers (now also featuring Steve Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston on guitar and harmonica) sounding more like a nightclub house band than they have in decades. It’s but a brief interlude, though, as the album shifts back into overdrive with a powerful one-two-three punch. First is “All You Can Carry,” a ringing rocker with a snaking, muscular guitar line and a plain-spoken message: “Take what you can, all you can carry / Take what you can and leave the past behind.” Then Petty snarls his way through “Power Drunk,” whose moody tension and Hammond organ accents hark back to the band’s powerful 1976 debut. And “Forgotten Man” opens with a hint of that familiar “American Girl” galloping beat before turning harder and darker, as Petty cries “I feel like a forgotten man” and Campbell erupts into a scorching solo.

Late-album highlight “Burnt Out Town” takes us back to a deep delta blues, as Petty does his best John Lee Hooker impression on the opening lines before lapsing into his normal singing voice as Thurston chugs along on harmonica. “They’re dancing on glass ceilings while the filthy money flows,” sings Petty, channeling Bill Maher over a thumping beat, “And here I am stealing gas with a garden hose.”

Like most Petty discs, there’s a bit of filler present; “U Get Me High” has a strong central riff but not much else going for it, “Sins Of My Youth” feels more like one of Petty’s languid midtempo solo numbers, and “Shadow People” is a somewhat anticlimactic closer, a moody, repetitive bit of social commentary with only one really good line: “He’s a 21st century man / And he’s scary as hell,  ‘cause when he’s afraid / He’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.”

Paul McCartney asked if you’d still love him when he’s 64. Tom Petty is celebrating his 64th year with a fresh set of songs that’s full of both hard-fought wisdom and unquenchable fire. Hypnotic Eye replies to the question of why with the only answer that rock and roll has ever offered: because we can.

Rating: B+

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© 2014 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.