When you woke up on the morning of Tuesday, July 29th, 2014, you might have noticed that the grass was a bit greener, and the air was a bit cleaner. There’s an easy explanation for that: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released a new album! Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but after four years since the last Heartbreakers record, it was about time for one of the most consistently great rock bands in the world to finally get back in the studio. I can happily report that the results are good: Hypnotic Eye is yet another strong Heartbreakers record, and furthers Petty’s status as the most reliable songwriter in rock (if you’re wondering, Jack White is second, Dave Grohl is third).
The buzz about this album in the months before its release centered around the idea that Petty would be returning to the sound of his first two records which were loud, rollicking, and surprisingly punky. That idea is true to a certain extent – this is by far the least mellow album that Petty has made in at least two decades. But it’s a bit more complex than that; Petty melds the jangling guitars of the self-titled debut and 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It with the bluesier sounds of 2010’s Mojo. The end result is something that sounds undeniably familiar, but still a bit unique from the rest of Petty’s catalog.
Essentially, Hypnoyic Eye is the record that Mojo should have been. And don’t get me wrong, I was a fan of Mojo. Tracks like “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” “Candy,” and “Let Yourself Go” got plenty of play around my household. But at times, it was a bit too ambitious for its own good. A few songs – especially the slower ones – went on a bit longer than they needed to, and at over an hour, there was just a bit too much. Hypnotic Eye, which clocks on it at a brisk 44 minutes, often feels like a more immediate, vital version of its predecessor.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite track here because there aren’t many missteps, but “Fault Lines” ranks among the best, with Mike Campbell delivering a cool guitar tone that I can’t remember ever hearing on a Petty album before. “Forgotten Man” is also a success, marrying the deeper of lyrical themes you might find on Southern Accents to the jangly, old school rock sound of say, Damn The Torpedoes. Throughout the record, we see Petty borrowing from various parts of his past, and creating something new.
After all this time, Petty is still a fantastic songwriter, and the Heartbreakers are still an incredible band, delivering memorable riffs that have just as much immediacy as the band’s late 70s/early 80s output. From the opening thunder of “American Dream Plan B” – which could be read as a darker sequel to “Runnin’ Down a Dream” – to the bluesy snarl of “Power Drunk,” this is an excellent record, and assures us that even though the Heartbreakers are entering their fifth decade of existence, their sound has barely aged a day.