Release Date: July 29, 2014
Tom Petty would like you to know he’s been doing this shit forever and likely will after the seas consume coastal cities. “I’ve got a dream/ I’m gonna fight till I get it right,” he coos on Hypnotic Eye‘s opener, “American Dream Plan B,” after a volley of distorto-riffs and singing in that patented whine pitched between Roger McGuinn and Mr. Rogers. Will he be your neighbor? Will he let you be his? He won’t back down. “My success is anybody’s guess,” he’ll brag to anyone in earshot.
Hypnotic Eye is Petty’s 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers, a prototypical clutch of reactionary attitudes emboldened or sweetened or if we’re lucky mitigated by Mike Campbell’s inexhaustible supply of riffs and Petty’s devotion to the chorus. Even in his salad years not much save platinum sales separated the petulant Hard Promises from the anything-goes Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). But Ryan Ulyate’s mix, the aural equivalent of Pinesol-scrubbed tiles, does flatter the players here, especially Benmont Tench’s quiet Mellotron and Campbell’s muted supper club licks on “Full Grown Boy.” Those ungrateful kids spending dough on Jack White and Kings of Leon haven’t heard “All You Can Carry,” a manifesto with an indelible take on the “Day Tripper” lead with the laughable maxim “Take what you can and leave the past behind.” Leave the past behind. Tom Petty!
Well, do as I say, etc. Every song on Hypnotic Eye is a seminar on formalism, with the sharp hard lines and utility of hotel furniture. It’s kind of not bad and often very good. If A Bigger Bang preserved the Rolling Stones as masters of a behind-the-beat rhythm that allowed their lead singer the freedom to rummage through as many kinds of priapic dynamism as his imagination allowed, Hypnotic Eye cements Petty as a leader whose band provides the tonal variants wanting in his singing and tunes. As a band, the Heartbreakers sound great. “Faultlines,” the best song Petty’s turned in since 1991, begins as a variant on the tight, tense groove of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” until Campbell, Petty, and utility man Scott Thurston on harmonica pile the fuzzed arpeggios and curlicues. The attention to the plate tectonics of melodic and rhythmic embellishment matches the title conceit — form meets content, like we used to say in the old days.
Never mind what Petty says. He’s an old-days guy. “Even my best friends are turnin’ into crooks,” he croaks in “Burnt Out Town.” Hypnotic Eye won’t challenge the supremacy of the “angel whores” whom he bitched about in 2002’s The Last DJ; it won’t get airplay unless satellite radio comes calling. That’s cool, though. Whether defending his turf or just bitching, he prefers makin’ some noise to delineating anything that the we-want-maturity crowd would call adult, thank goodness; the promise of eternal boyish rocking helped him score chart and MTV hits years after Springsteen, Seger, and Mellencamp coasted with comps. Now he’s just another touring member of the pantheon. No myths to sell, just the idea of a working rock band reclaiming what’s left of a center-right boomer rock coalition. Hynoptic Eye gets my vote.