Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye
8.8 / 10
Anything that’s Rock & Roll:
Petty & crew return with a raucous Classic Rock marvel
Rock music has always thrived off conflict and disenchantment. Its rebellious nature at times leads to its marginalization from the mainstream conscience and yet it’s in that neglect that its enduring flame burns brightest at the core revealing a true indomitable spirit. One of its greatest torch-bearing crusaders has been Tom Petty who’s been raging against the dying of the light for the last four decades now.
It’s 2014 and American music is more plasticized and hollow than ever. It’s a landscape rife with cardboard cut-out homogenized pop country acts and computerized EDM manipulated by talentless hacks. What’s definitely not in fashion is substantial guitar-driven rock music. Cue Tom Petty sounding the battle horn galloping into this now foreign American frontier with his valiant knights The Heartbreakers armed to the hilt with six-string bayonets on their uncompromising slab of Classic Rock Hypnotic Eye.
“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone earlier this year regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Guitars weaned off of the chiming sounds of The Byrds and new wave flourishes are alternatively soiled in the murky bayou waters from their home state of Florida. One of Petty’s earliest bands Mudcrutch (Which also included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) may actually be the largest influence. Dusty distortion and swampy blues borrowed from the early ‘70s outfit combine with the elderly statesmen proficiency making a crackling unapologetic racket.
Political undercurrents course just beneath the surface throughout the record only to come surging to the forefront in areas. None more prevalent than opening track “American Dream Plan B” in which Petty speaks on the disillusionment and the general disappearance of middle-class America. Backed by a prowling predatory riff, Petty sneers, “I’m half lit, I can’t dance for shit.” Lead guitarist Mike Campbell cuts a searing winding Creedence-y solo before Petty finally realizes the American dream is really just a fantasy singing, “Well my mama’s so sad, daddy’s just mad cause I just ain’t gonna have the chance he had. My success is anybody’s guess but like a fool I’m betting on happiness.” The perennially defiant Petty however wails in the chorus, “I gotta dream I’m gonna fight till I get it right.” “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as Campbell interjects more piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar. “Red River” is fueled by a brawny riff to cut through the Everglades and Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans (Rosary, rabbit’s foot, tiger tooth, Gris-gris stick, etc.) with the river itself serving as a baptismal font, “Meet me tonight at the Red River and look down into your soul.” Titanic galloping guitars swirl like cyclones through “All You Can Carry” while “Power Drunk” is a sauntering gnarled romp commentary on egregious abuse within the hierarchy and the high-octane “Forgotten Man” is a perfect follow up as the lament of a disenfranchised soul lost in a world of moral decay. “U Get Me High” is the lewdest song sonically here with a crunch that sounds as if the band is plugging in for the first time together and getting their rocks off with dissonant levels of amplification in their garage, aiming for old haunts like Dub’s Lounge in Gainesville rather than the biggest arenas around the world. The mojo is definitely working on the bluesy “Burnt Out Town” as another quasi-political piece portraying a town rampant with corruption and dilapidation (“There’s ashes on Main Street and the mayor is cooking the books, why even my best friends are turning into crooks”). The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until it melds into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”
Hypnotic Eye sounds stubborn and audacious, much like the outspoken often cantankerous man at its epicenter. It’s out of place and time but it’s those very same reasons why it resonates with reassurance. While Petty could’ve taken a solo attempt at a record like this it wouldn’t have been as captivating as there is a certain synergy he has with The Heartbreakers that can’t be replicated by any other hired guns that give his music that added level of vitality. Hypnotic Eye is a galvanizing statement made on its own terms that aims to blast through the thick layer of commercialized sediment. These are destined to become road dog songs built for kinetic interplay during live shows. Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.