Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Not that he's trying, but Tom Petty can't seem to make a bad record. Everything he's done in the 21st century has held up to his work of the 20th century. Although it was widely panned, this particular writer thought 2002's The Last DJ was one of Petty and the Heartbreakers' most brilliant strokes. Four years later, Petty released his third solo album Highway Companion, which featured all the Heartbreakers (!) and was more of a throwback to basic rock and roll roots. Mojo, released in 2010, was more raw and grittier than either of its two predecessors, a hint that the band was hardly ready to rest and hang it up, despite talk in the rumor mill. Following the four-year cycle, here comes Hypnotic Eye, flush with stunning songs, exemplary playing and beautiful production. It's crystal clear once and for all that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers aren't even close to cashing in their chips.
"American Dream Plan B" is a heavy, in-your-face declaration in which Petty asserts, amongst a jangle of guitars of every flavor, both electric and acoustic - "I got a dream I'm gonna fight 'til I get it…" The trap is set and you're hooked as "Fault Lines" fuzzies in and out around the melody, cast in a shroud of urgency. "Red River" melodically fires away straight-away and soars into the heavens at the break. This one could have easily made the Top 10 in the 80s or 90s. From here, the record takes a few side trips. There's "Full Grown Boy," glowing with an upbeat jazziness. "Forgotten Man" dovetails down a swampy, Bo Diddley divide, with Mike Campbell peeling off a short and sweet lead on the turn-around (something he must do in his sleep). "Sins Of My Youth" is a dream-catcher with Steve Ferrone's impeccable syncopated rhythm and a haunting magnetism, carefully lined by Benmont Tench's subtle keys.
I'd like to say Ron Blair played some nice bass lines on "U Get Me High," but that honor belongs to Petty (Blair does fine on the rest of the record; dig his booming bass on "Fault Lines"). Of course, whenever Tom Petty starts singing about getting high, it can lead to all kinds of speculation, especially with lines like, "Trying to smoke on closer inspection..." This and the opening song, and you can tell the man's still thumbing his nose at the establishment. Or is he? "Shadow People," perhaps the album's most majestic statement, engages in pseudo-political discourse without taking sides, leaving one to wonder where Petty exactly stands in the scheme of things. Where ever that is, there's no question that he and the Heartbreakers still craft records with thought, care and precision. To that end, Hypnotic Eye sustains the high-level of songwriting, musicianship and utter fearlessness we've come expect from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
~ Shawn Perry