Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are back with their thirteenth studio album, cryptically titled “Hypnotic Eye.” Through his music, we get the sense that Petty is in fact one of us – a simple man with whom we could share our troubles, someone we could trust to know exactly what we’re going through. This connection to his audience is what has kept Petty at the forefront when others of his era have long since given up.
Though Petty has been a staple in rock culture since the 1970s and has thoroughly achieved legend status, he refuses to rest on his laurels. Instead, he strives to expand and create consistently hip and exciting music that will continue to please both new and old fans.
“Hypnotic Eye” is a great example of this. While 2010’s “Mojo” showed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ desire to explore the blues and their musical roots, “Hypnotic Eye” is drenched in good old-fashioned rock and roll.
It’s what they do best, and this album doesn’t disappoint.
Petty’s instantly recognizable voice, with its nasal tone and Florida swamp drawl, is in fine form. At times he sounds raw with barely contained rage; other times, his voice softens to a weary drawl, drawing the listener in with sage advice. Petty clearly still has the passion and sensibility about life that he’s always had.
In “American Dream Plan B,” Petty says the so-called American Dream isn’t everybody’s dream. He’s happy to dump the American Dream at the curb and chase his own rock and roll dream even when everyone else thinks it’s foolish. Petty never was conventional and is certainly not one to settle for being told what to do. Longtime Heartbreaker Mike Campbell supplies the song’s thick feedback and heavy guitar tones; his playing seems to shine brighter with each album.
“Fault Lines” and “Sins of My Youth” find Petty reflecting on his imperfect life. While he has done some things he isn’t proud of, he has left the past behind with his soul intact. He accepts that his mistakes have made him a better person, one who isn’t quick to judge those who’ve made similar mistakes.
On “Red River,” Petty introduces a mysterious and slightly superstitious female character who uses various talismans to protect her soul. Petty sings about wanting “to paint her up in mud and clay and let the river wash it all away.” A rock and roll religious revival, perhaps? It’s clearly reminiscent of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” where we are given a vague female character whose life Petty narrates through simple yet intriguing lines. It’s one example of Petty’s unique gift for spinning tales, and it shows just how good he is at his craft.
“Full Grown Boy” is an easygoing jazz number that allows Benmont Tench to showcase his superb and oftentimes overlooked keyboard skills, while Petty waxes philosophical about what love means as you grow older. The band also shines in “Power Drunk.” Campbell gives off an incredible fuzzball riff and Tench and Ron Blair add a unique bass-driven interplay.
The last track, “Shadow People,” is an eerie song that reflects that people are not always what they seem. The image they portray to the outside world may seem normal, but their shadows hold the dark truth. It’s Petty at his best, portraying the world as it really is. The man won’t back down from the truth. Would we want him to be any other way?
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