Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tom Petty 19: Hypnotic Eye

With and without his Heartbreakers, Tom Petty has become such a fixture in the pantheon that four years between albums doesn’t seem that much a big deal. Of course, if you’re gonna take that much time, it helps for any new album to be good.
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, while Steve Ferrone is more than competent and apparently a prince of a guy, we will always miss what Stan Lynch brought to the mix. (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)—3

1 comment:

  1. Based on the title and the cover, I was really hoping for some neo-psychedelic garage rock. “American Dream Plan B” is a very disappointing opening. That riff sounds way too much like Kiss. Tom was smarter than that. “Fault Lines” is cooler, but I couldn’t help think of “Walk Like an Egyptian” when I heard that bassline. “Red River” crams a multi-part structure into 4 minutes that reminds me, of all people, Jethro Tull. The jazzy lounge pop of “Full Grown Boy” and “Sins of my Youth” is another departure, but I don’t think that he pulls it off on these songs. “All You Can Carry” and “Power Drunk” are based on other simple riffs, but they are not as intense as they should be. “Forgotten Man”: a reductionist rework of “Got My Mind Made Up”. “U Get Me High” and “Shadow People” sound like the more tedious numbers from “Mojo”, but with uninspired lyrics.
    Looking at what I’ve just written, it seems that I spent all of it comparing the songs to other songs, whether by Petty or other people. I guess that because they don’t have a lot going for them in and of themselves. There’s a fair amount of experimentation going on, but it doesn’t lend itself to the Heartbreakers’ strengths. The playing sounds tired, Petty’s voice sounds tired, the songwriting sounds tired. It’s the first Petty album that I describe as boring. I’m surprised that I like it even less than “Mojo”. It’s sad that this was the last Heartbreakers album. Were they a spent force at this point? I guess we’ll never know.