Release Date: Jul 29, 2014
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Album Rock, American Trad Rock, Bar Band, Heartland Rock
Worth the wait: Tom’s still rockin’ around (with us) Can Tom Petty really feel like a Forgotten Man, as track seven of his new album complains? The, presumably deliberate, musical references to American Girl that kick it off might suggest a diminished media profile since his barnstorming first album, but countless legions of devoted fans remember who he is. Those same fans won’t be disappointed by Hypnotic Eye. Not every track is brilliant, but Petty’s intention to make a rock album has been realised for the most part, with All You Can Carry, Power Drunk, You Get Me High and Burnt Out Town providing a solid core of TP classics at the centre of the collection.
Tom Petty And The HeartbreakersHypnotic Eye(Reprise)Rating: 4 stars Tom Petty has touted his new album Hypnotic Eye as a return to the spirit of his first two albums with the Heartbreakers in the late ’70s, back when the band’s full-throttle embrace of rock and roll’s bleeding heart and rebellious soul was desperately needed within a rock scene struggling to find its footing amidst the two-pronged assault of punk and disco. In truth, Petty and his band might not be as quick as they were in the old days, when songs like “American Girl” and “I Need To Know” blistered past us like cars on the 441. The trade-off is that they now rock harder than ever, with a focused fierceness that should leave current rockers dust-covered and envious.
Tom Petty really hit on something when he sang “the waiting is the hardest part.” For years, fans of the long-toothed rocker have been cooling their heels, awaiting an album that would recapture the pitched energy, fine melodies and riffing power of Petty’s commercial prime. With “Hypnotic Eye,” the waiting ends. The album — Petty’s 13th with the Heartbreakers — recalls the formal song structures, chiseled tunes and hard-rocking momentum of yore.
Music has become so compartmentalized over the past decade that bands that just play rock and roll seem quaint, or they disappear in the post-synth-avant-psych-gaze haze. Of course, Tom Petty doesn’t have to worry about these things; he probably doesn’t know what the hell any of it means. When Petty and his Heartbreakers assembled in the studio back in 2011, all they knew was they wanted to make—as he put it—“a straight, hard-rockin’ record from beginning to end.” That’s exactly what they do on Hypnotic Eye—it’s rock and roll, nothing more, nothing less.
Tom Petty and co's 13th studio album, their first since 2010's well received Mojo, is a rocked-up affair full of mid-tempo bluesy intonations. Opener American Dream Plan B sets the tone with a hard edge before melting into the chorus, All You Can Carry hints at hidden threats on the edge of town, and Red River is replete with the paraphernalia of the American occult. Petty is on good vocal form, especially on tracks such as the self-knowing Full Grown Boy and the harmonic U Get Me High, and the acute lyrical observations come thick and fast – "Pin a badge on a man and he starts to change," he sings on Power Drunk.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed country-pop songstress Taylor Swift defended the music industry’s declining sales by stating, “In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. ” While Swift’s argument is heavily weighted toward the labels, one artist much more seasoned than her has spent a career railing against the machinations of the industry—all the while ruling album charts and radio play. Nearly 40 years in, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are beyond the point of needing to give a shit.
Looking back, it's clear the 2008 Mudcrutch reunion was pivotal for Tom Petty, helping him re-focus and re-dedicate himself to playing in a band. Like the original band, Mudcrutch Mach II didn't last long -- long enough to play a few shows and record a warm, gangly beast of an album -- but it reinvigorated Petty. Afterward, he reveled in the sound of how the Heartbreakers played, digging deep into his catalog to shake up his set lists, letting the group exercise some blues muscles on 2010's Mojo, a record that stood as the Heartbreakers' rowdiest record since the '70s but which is easily overshadowed by the trashy psychedelic pulse of 2014's Hypnotic Eye.
"Take what you can and leave the past behind," sings Tom Petty on "All You Can Carry." "We gotta run.".
For almost 40 years, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers have been channelling the red blood and blue collars of the USA into their radio rock. Yet Petty has rarely come across more overtly American than on this, his 13th studio album. Through the gritty rumble of opener ‘American Dream Plan B’, the honky-tonk blues of ‘Burnt Out Town’ and the vigorous ‘Full Grown Boy’ and ‘Shadow People’ especially, these 11 songs see Petty harness the grand ol’ USA more than ever before.
Over the course of their nearly 40-year career, Tom Petty and his eternally reliable compadres, the Heartbreakers, have rarely strayed from their now well-established formula of 4/4 beats, jangly guitar, and radio-ready hooks. But that's not to say they've outrun old age. Petty is now 63, and on Hypnotic Eye, his 13th album with the band, those years manifest themselves in bitterness and cynicism.
The company line on Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty's 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers is that it marks a return to the band's rock & roll roots ("a straight hard-rockin' record, from beginning to end" is how Petty himself described it). Four songs in, the jazzy "Full Grown Boy" makes it clear that the reality of Hypnotic Eye isn't quite so straightforward. Petty is a no-BS curmudgeon on his better days, and he is rarely in a joyful mood here: first single "American Dream Plan B" finds him snarling against lowered expectations ("I got a dream, I'm gonna fight 'til I get it right"); he gets even more pointedly political — if not partisan — by taking to task shady political figures on the bluesy "Burnt Out Town" ("New emperor, same clothes") and epic closer "Shadow People" ("And this one carries a gun for the U.
Many of the songs on Hypnotic Eye - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 13th album - would be right at home on the band's Greatest Hits or 1979's Damn The Torpedoes. None of them are as immediately catchy or memorable, and perhaps that's to be expected. But Petty and Co. are at ease and doing what they please.
"I knew I wanted to do a rock'n'roll record. We hadn't made a straight hard-rockin' record, from beginning to end, in a long time," Tom Petty said earlier this year. Thus the jangly guitars, Stooges powerchords and uptight harmonies of the 13th Heartbreakers album, which echoes the sound of their 1976 debut. Things have changed, though.
The best moment of Hypnotic Eye is one of its most subdued: track six, “Power Drunk”, about two and a half minutes in. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell has just spun out another set of whisper-wail licks over a Texas blues vamp. Then, a quick snare lead-in; Ron Blair’s dirtied bass begins chugging. Tom Petty and rhythm guitarist Scott Thurston repeat an ascending harmony, to which Campbell responds at the end of each phrase with a single, shivering bend.
Following their bluesy 2010 detour, “Mojo,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers get back into the business of what they do best, and business is good. “Hypnotic Eye” offers the band mostly in lean, mean, garage-rock machine mode firing up the fuzz and swagger. “Hypnotic” has a clutch of new songs you can imagine sounding great next to their elder siblings in concert, including the urgent “All You Can Carry.” As Petty eyes a conflagration on the horizon, you can feel the heat approaching in the rhythm section’s brawn and the slashing guitars, and it all pulls back to a feather lightness in the chorus melody like so many ashes wafting up from the fire.
In music, at least, earnestness is the currency that makes the Internet hum. Think of all those kids staring into cameras and singing their hearts out in hopes of a little attention, buskers with hats in hand. Their purposeful lack of artifice — yes, it’s a pose, but a vulnerable one. True self inside! Just press play! Over the last couple of years, Shawn Mendes, a baby-faced 15-year-old from Toronto, has bared his soul repeatedly, especially on Vine, the microvideo app in which videos are limited to just six seconds.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye (Reprise) Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have only their back catalogs to blame. The songs, sounds, and signifiers that crown them within the slave-to-youth genre become a millstone around the neck of every new album past those pulpy peak years. After said Valhalla, Nirvana, Laurel Canyon, all ensuing work tangles into decades of spot-the-antecedent Venn diagrams.
When classic rock bands get several decades deep into their career, it’s not uncommon to start hearing them talk about “getting back to their roots” when making new albums. More often than not, that’s code for “getting back to the style of music that brought them the biggest hits”—in other words, attempting to recapture the style and subject matter of their youth, emboldened by the benefit of age and hindsight. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have never been that kind of band.
Tom Petty hasn’t been cool in about 35 years, and I think it’s because he’s a song guy. Song guys aren’t cool. There are cool guys who write great songs, obviously – Neil Young, David Bowie – but they’ve got more for people to hang on to than their music. Tom Petty is the Ford Motors of rock – he doesn’t worry about being flashy, because he knows he can pump out consistent product.
While its somewhat cerebral title might suggest otherwise, Hypnotic Eye places its emphasis on strictly visceral appeal. In typical Petty fashion, the songs hew to the approach the group’s maintained since the beginning – a forthright, forward-leaning sound that finds the leader’s bedraggled vocals supported by hints of harmony, and a generally dour disposition that precludes any possibility for frivolous distraction. The album’s opening track, the driving and determined “American Dream Plan B,” makes those intentions clear; Petty’s unusually gnarly singing offers more than a hint of intimidation and exasperation.