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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.29.2014

1. "American Dream Plan B" (3:00)
2. "Fault Lines" (4:28)
3. "Red River" (3:59)
4. "Full Grown Boy" (3:26)
5. "All You Can Carry" (4:34)
6. "Power Drunk" (4:39)
7. "Forgotten Man" (2:48)
8. "Sins Of My Youth" (3:49)
9. "U Get Me High" (4:11)
10. "Burnt Out Town" (3:05)
11. "Shadow People" (6:37)

It's difficult to dislike Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Try all you want, but just about everyone has at least one song of theirs that they really dig, and there's no shortage to choose from. The rock act has been going for nearly forty years now and through the course of thirteen studio albums they've given us timeless hits like "American Girl," "Refugee," "You Got Lucky," "I Won't Back Down," " "Learning to Fly," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and many, many more. The group is American rock at its core, as vital and essential to the genre as anything that Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, the Doors, Nirvana or any other group has provided.

And yet, over the last several years there hasn't been much to crow about as a Heartbreakers fan. There's been music to be sure, and pretty decent music to boot. But 2010's Mojo and 2002's The Last DJ seemed to lack the vitality of their previous work. Thankfully the band has turned that around and on their new LP Hypnotic Eye we see a return of sorts to the group's glory days. Petty said earlier this year in an interview that he felt as if the band hadn't made a straight rock n' roll record in a long time, and that's a fair assessment. Hypnotic Eye fills in that hole with a forty-five minute album that brings the heart back into the group's heartland rock stylings.

Perhaps part of the reason that the group hasn't seemed as strong lately is that it's hard for heartland rock acts to compete with the increasingly pop and electronic-oriented acts that dominate not only commercial sales charts, but rock music as well. Rock seems to have gotten tired of this domination and this year has certainly been a bluesy one thanks to the likes of the Black Keys and Jack White. That's given Petty and the Heartbreakers an opening and they go in full-bore from the opening track. "American Dream Plan B" is a hard-rocking number about underdogs fighting and scraping against the increasingly disparate gap between the haves and have-nots; over distortion heavy guitars, Petty sneers with defiance as he sings "Well, my mama's so sad/Daddy's so mad/cause I ain't gonna have the chance he had." It's an anthem for the shrinking middle class and a powerful one that never loses its edge, even in the more melodic chorus where Petty proclaims "I have a dream, I'm gonna fight till I get it."

Right after that, the album takes a trip into the bass-heavy "Fault Lines" which propels the momentum further ahead. It's the kind of song that really lets Petty unleash his trademark voice, a timeless thing that seems impossibly old and yet thrumming with life. Mike Campbell gets a memorable solo riff toward the middle of the song while Ron Blair's bass guitar work calls to mind thoughts of 1960s psychedelia in a heady mix. The band's blues motif plays out throughout the album, whether on the opening riffs of the soul-inspired "Red River" or being let out to shine on "All You Can Carry." This is an album that feels like a throwback to an earlier time but without losing any vitality or feeling anachronistic. It's a difficult feat to pull off, but they really make it work here.

Even on the songs that are less exciting in a musical capacity, there's something to enjoy. "Full Grown Boy" may not be the kind of hook-heavy song that flies on radio, but there's something gleeful lurking just underneath the sinister-sounding jazz tones of the song. And if a song like "Power Drunk" seems to be trying too hard to capture the nostalgia of their mid-1980s work, there's still the great guitar work that carries us through the track. This is a deeply relevant album that has come along at the right time to capture a rising sentimentality toward more stripped-down rock elements and brings in a few subversive messages as well.

It's rare that an album can make it through from start to finish without something coming along that's lackluster, and there is one on this album as well. "Sins of My Youth" isn't a bad song by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a mellow, introspective track that just feels out of place in comparison to the rest of the album. It quickly fades from mind once the more rocking "U Get Me High" rolls in, and while you may groan at Petty and company's use of text-speak the song is a groovy little thing that gets you going right through the rest of the album, through the down-and-dirty "Burnt Out Town" and the creepy, gritty riffs of "Shadow People." One middling track out of eleven isn't a bad track record and it isn't much more than a slight blemish on an otherwise great piece of work.

Standout Tracks: "American Dream Plan B," "Red River," "All You Can Carry," "Shadow People"

Skippable: "Sins of My Youth"

The 411: Nearly forty years into their music careers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are almost as vital as they've ever sounded. While Hypnotic Eye may not quite reach the heights of Damn the Torpedoes it's still a great rock album that speaks to the heart of America as it stands today. With their consummate skill at mixing hooks, grit and just enough of an edge to keep things sharp, the Heartbreakers have crafted an excellent LP that is well-worth checking out.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  8.5   [ Very Good ]  legend


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