Hypnotic Eye continues on from the middling Mojo, most tracks taken in a rockin’ tempo with solid riffs. If the notes are to be believed, it was recorded in spurts over a three-year period. Advance word and other review call it a return to the so-called classic Heartbreakers sound, which isn’t entirely correct. Rather, the simple drums bring to mind the peppier songs on Full Moon Fever. Still, there is something of a ‘70s vibe, like a lot of other songs on the radio back then. It also clocks in at a compact 45 minutes, just like a record should.
“American Dream Plan B” is a complicated title for a fairly basic rocker based on the “China Grove” hook played backwards. Luckily the chorus adds a little color. Mike Campbell gets co-writing credit for just one track, the groovy boogie of “Fault Lines” “Red River” and “All That You Carry” are both excellent versions of the same song, though we prefer the chorus of the latter; in between is the low-key “Full Grown Boy”, a jazzier mellow blues. The “snarl” that pundits have championed turns up in “Power Drunk”, which does sound like the early stuff.
“Forgotten Man” gallops along over a Bo Diddley riff, and seems to be one of the few songs about relationships, as opposed to the State of the World. Another is “Sins Of My Youth”, which would be mistaken for a Mark Knopfler solo track if not for Tom’s vocal. “U Get Me High” recycles a Wildflowers-era title for a song that should get airplay on stations not scared away by the connotation. “Burnt Out Town” would be the earliest recording here, coming closely off the blues idea of the last album, and Tom using his mushmouthed redneck delivery to its fullest, but not quite meeting the challenge of the rhymes. But the best is saved for last. With its plaintive piano intro, one thinks “Shadow People” will be a grand ballad, but then band comes in, and Tom’s found yet another original way to play the same four chords and keep it fresh. That little guitar part is perfect, and this is probably why people say it sounds retro.
So why isn’t Hypnotic Eye a classic along the lines of Damn The Torpedoes? Two reasons. First, there’s no jangle anywhere, just riffs in a blues scale. Secondly, and this is key, so much so that it explains what’s been missing from the puzzle for 20 years: Steve Ferrone doesn’t play fills. Ever. Stan Lynch used to, constantly, and while singing harmonies, and we’ll always miss him. (Meanwhile, Scott Thurston’s job seems to be throwing in a harmonica here and there, along with unnoticeable rhythm guitar, yet they still spell his name wrong in the booklet.) Benmont Tench adds more color than he seemed to on the last album; that element, along with Mike Campbell, keeps the band grounded. In all, it’s still toe-tapping enough to merit repeat listens.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye (2014)—3½