Album Reviews | Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye (2014)

Hypnotic Eye marks the first time I have written about Tom Petty on this site. For some reason, he just hasn’t bubbled to the surface until now. He’s one of those artists that’s always just kind of there, year in and year out. Without question, though, he’s been putting in good work, even if his music lacks the kind of sizzle that would allow it to transcend the simplest of labels (i.e., classic rock, album rock, etc.). He’s never belonged to any sort of movement; he just popped up during the album rock era of the 1970s’ back half, and doggedly kept on playing his straightforward brand of rock & roll even as disco dominated the charts threatened rock‘s very livelihood for the first time since it burst on the scene two decades earlier.

TuskIn many ways, heartland rockers like Petty and Springsteen saved rock during this period, since they were among the few who kept on playing — many of the decade’s most popular bands like Aerosmith, Eagles, and Led Zeppelin flamed out as the ’70s drew to a close. (And Fleetwood Mac‘s Tusk, the follow-up to the bestselling album of the decade (1977’s Rumours), was a huge flop when it dropped in ’79.) So while many complained that the choice of Petty as the Super Bowl Halftime Show performer in 2008 was a bit of a bland one — and given his age at the time, it was hard to disagree with the lifelessness of the performance — his sound for years has been distinctive enough to be recognizable without falling prey to marginalization through the Information Age’s obsession with classification.

WildflowersTranslation: his sound (on record at least) is broad without being bland, which is tough to pull off. is one of the few that seemingly does embody everything that was popular during a certain era. Even during the ’80s, his songwriting remained true to his old form even as the technology started changing rapidly (i.e., when a drum machine popped up on 1985’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”). And during the ’90s, he brought in the omnipresent Rick Rubin to produce his excellent 1994 album Wildflowers, showing that he could survive the alternative revolution just fine. Of course, Petty‘s biggest hit and best-known song “Free Fallin'” continues to be a shining example of a middle-of-the-road song with a long reach. So Petty has quite a legacy, as his Super Bowl selection suggests.

To Bring You My LoveSo how is Hypnotic Eye? Pretty decent, actually. None of its songs can compare to the effortlessly simple pleasures offered by classics like “Refugee” and “American Girl” — Petty seems to be more interested in exploring blues-rock jamming and delivering it in a production style that is slickly precise (even when the guitars are overdriven) — but there are some good tracks here regardless. The best song is actually the closer, “Shadow People,” which is one of my favorites of the year. In many ways, it does what the all of the songs are seemingly attempting to do the best — it certainly has the best groove, at any rate. “Forgotten Man” is another good one, even though it (consciously?) rips its guitar sound entirely from “Teclo” on PJ Harvey‘s 1995 classic To Bring You My Love.

Overall, even though Hypnotic Eye is a good effort from an aging veteran, not much here will last beyond 2014, since while some of what is here is good, it doesn’t rise to the level of what Petty had to offer in his heyday.


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