Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye

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4 out of 5 stars

By Ashley Scrace

Tom Petty is a badass. Behind the seemingly liberal-left politics, behind the somewhat chilled nuance in his voice and character, he is a guy that takes no shit. This maverick quality is something glimpsed across his career, with and without the Heartbreakers, and now epitomised in Hypnotic Eye’s raw, unbridled, cantankerous approach to modern American living.

While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking here – some of the songs are essentially chordal rehashes of, basically, every previous Tom Petty song – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers somehow deliver something different and enticing. But it’s not like Petty needs to break ground. A musically underrated yet popular songwriter, performer and rocker, Hypnotic Eye reminds us that Petty is still a rock legend, a master at weaving elegant melodies and observations with often clunky yet accessible, distorted licks and riffs which hark back to an era where driving rock was king.

‘American Dream Plan B’, which kicks off the album, is as good as anything in Petty’s back-catalogue, both as a soloist and with the Heartbreakers. It’s a muffled, determined foot-stomping romp almost parodying the self-absorbed belief evident among many who have already made it, Petty included (“My success is anybody’s guess” he laments in the pre-chorus).

‘Red River’, ‘Power Drunk’ and ‘U Get Me High’ are other tracks to note, all beginning simply enough before taking unexpected yet somehow comfortably familiar transformations midway through the running time into catchy, simple sing-along choruses.

‘Fault Lines’, while a touching reflective tale, is forgettable. ‘Full Grown Boy’ is another dud, resembling something akin to the jazzy Norah Jones infused ‘Virginia Moon’ trash from the Foo Fighters’ otherwise remarkable In Your Honour album. It is not a particularly bad song – lyrically it is one of the best – but it does not fit.

Still ultimately you don’t care all that much when the track that follows it, ‘All You Can Carry’, is comparable in its brilliant simplicity to anything from the Wildflowers album.

Rounding off the decent set is ‘Shadow People’ – a tad long perhaps, but a solid bookend.

The last album from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 2010’s disappointingly bluesy Mojo, seemed an unfortunately named release – it seemed that the band had perhaps lost its mojo, producing only a couple of songs on the album which survived the touring and fan memory span, after release (‘I Should’ve Known It’ is perhaps the best example).

But the band went away and restructured themselves using old tools. Mike Campbell’s guitar is infected with effects, from clean flanging rhythm phases to powerful foot-thumping overdriven solos. Campbell never misses a note, a beat or a feeling – the latter is most certainly the important point here. If Petty leads the band, Campbell is most certainly the right-hand man.

In the background, astute yet important, is the gentle ambience of Benmont Tench on the keyboards and organ, the heartbeat rhythm to the Heartbreakers from British Steve Farrone, the thudding bass of Ron Blair and the often sublimely understated harmonica, harmony vocals and rhythm guitar of Scott Thurston.

Restoring the 70s’ and 80s’ raw feel without following routes into intentional poor-quality obscurity is becoming tough today. Let’s take Neil Young: a wonderful, legendary songwriter who, unfortunately, can only muster his vintages sounds at the moment with jaded, irritating lo-fi garbage on A Letter Home (our review).

Revisiting the past is tough and a venture that many aged stars should perhaps abandon, leaving the history to only be retold as elaborate stories.

Thing is, Petty is an elaborate storyteller, a master of personalising the more tender records and adding intelligible politics and observations to the most complex issues.

Ingenuity is key. And that is what makes Hypnotic Eye work.

 

Must listen:
Pretty much the entire album

More filler than thriller:
Full Grown Boy
Forgotten Man

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