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Tom Petty’s Hypnotic Eye: 20/20
Who can say a terrible thing about Tom Petty?
For a man whose business has been rock n’ roll for nearly four decades, his record in the industry is as untarnished as they come. From his first records with the Heartbreakers in the late seventies to his most recent albums with the same band, and all the jams in between, Tom Petty has helped in a big way to define what we now know and sell to the world as American music. Hypnotic Eye, his latest contribution to the scene since Mojo in 2010, releases another eleven memorable tracks into the international soundscape, some even as timeless as those first heard in his solo recordings of Wildflowers or Full Moon Fever. Any listener tuning into the insouciant rock and melodies of this iconic band is as unlikely as ever to be disappointed in what might be one of his most thoughtful records with the Heartbreakers since Echo in 1999.
Announcing once again their elite status in musical recording, Hypnotic Eye showcases everything we love about the music by Tom Petty. It’s a return to his roots but with well-timed deviations into neighbouring genres, like southern blues and jazz, and all with an overwhelmingly punk overtone in the way of his lyrics and their delivery. The opening track, American Dream Plan B, is a great, restful punk song with a snarling riff that scared my wife when it first came out of the speakers. It would be my favourite if not for the needless strumming of an acoustic guitar that makes an entrance before the bridge; no doubt turning it into a forgivable radio hit.The whole album, though, moves like a tidal wave down a lazy river, with each track surging slowly into the next radio-ready composition. The fourth song on the record, and the first to catch my serious attention, is what justly separates this band from all the other old boys on the scene. It’s called Full Grown Boy and highlights well one of those jazzy deviations from earlier recordings I mentioned at the start. The lyrics capture a defining theme in the album, which is the persisting rebellion that fades not with age, and illustrates well the continuous growth of the band, whose lineup since 1995 includes the great Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, Scott Thurston, and Steve Ferrone.
Though burned for his half-assed blues on a little recording four years prior, songs like Power Drunk and Burnt Out Town off this latest album should help to place the foot in the mouth of any critic who cried foul on Mojo in 2010. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play the hell out of the blues and can make envious even those young, soul brothers from the Black Keys.
NOTE: Mojo is not as bad an attempt at the blues as many would say but I’ll agree that if it’s the blues he and the band choose to pursue, more could be expected from a man once known to the world as Muddy alongside the other Wilbury brothers.
“I love you more than the sins of my youth.”
Tom appears to be holding firm in his youthful insurgence with this new music. Sins of my Youth is the eighth track and a frontrunner for my favourite on the album. Its hauntingly cool chorus line, “I love you more than the sins of my youth” suggests the man has no regrets as he moves ever upward in his career of nearly forty years. I’ll even give credit to the single, U Get Me High, if not for its two nourishing guitar solos than for the replacement of “You” with a “U” in the title, signifying yet again Tom Petty’s timeless ability to give the people what they want.
The record ends with its longest track, Shadow People, and it’s every bit as satisfying as the ten tracks before it. With its sliding blues riff rising and falling to form a kind of supernatural groove, the song closes the album in brilliant fashion, announcing the end of yet another impressive recording by the unwavering Thomas Earl Petty and his knowing Heartbreakers.