From the lowest of lowest to the highest of highs! I left my MP3 player in a glass of uncooked rice last night and hoped for the best and this morning…it worked again!
I can only assume the God of Rock heard my prayers. Or maybe just the ghost of this next artist, who was taken from us too soon.
Disc 1109 is… Hypnotic Eye
Artist: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Year of Release: 2014
What’s up with the Cover? Look deep into this annoying geometric pattern. You’re getting very sleepy…You no longer have any desire to smoke…instead you wish to listen to rock and roll…
How I Came To Know It: I’m a Tom Petty fan. When a new album of his comes out, I buy it. Little did I know that this was the last time I would ever be able to do that.
How It Stacks Up: I have 16 Tom Petty albums (solo and with the Heartbreakers) and that’s all of them. Of the 16 I put “Hypnotic Eye” in 13th spot. I still liked it a lot, but the competition was fierce.
Ratings: 3 stars
At some point every music lover revisits the blues, and with “Hypnotic Eye” Petty continues the bluesy journey begun on 2010’s “Mojo” (reviewed back at Disc 708). This time he mixes it in with some fuzz rock that adds even more grit.
Blues are great for feeling low, but they also do decay very well, and “Hypnotic Eye” is at its best when it is exploring the rot in America, whether political or through the eyes of the grim, hard-luck characters that Petty has such a great knack for capturing in song.
The political tracks tend to be the stronger this time. Petty discusses towns rife with corruption (“Burnt Out Town”), and politicians high on their own authority (“Power Drunk”). “Power Drunk” is particularly powerful, with Mike Campbell laying down sweet licks, and Petty’s vocals coming through slick and dirty. The song grows into a heavily reverbed guitar riff that captures the staggering, lurching aggression of a drunk and applies it to politicians equally out of control.
Petty is great at taking larger themes and connecting them to personal experience, and “Hypnotic Eye” is bookended by two such songs.
The record begins with “American Dream Plan B” a song that has that same alcohol party riff, launched this time with a driving quality that suggests progress and confidence. Yet as the song unfolds, Petty shows that confidence is misplaced with lines like:
“Well, I’m half-lit, I can’t dance for shit
But I see what I want and go after it”
“My success is anybody’s guess,
But like a fool I’m bettin’ on happiness”
By the end of the song you realize that this character has bought into the American dream, but that dream isn’t necessarily answering his calls. The character’s cocksure attitude becomes progressively more tragic as the song progresses. You bob your head to the beat, but you feel a little bad doing so.
The end of the album gives us “Shadow People.” A mournful bit of Benmont Tench organ greets you just before the signature Campbell blues riff hits, tipping you off that all that confidence and certainty is well worn through at this point. Petty looks into cars, sees other drivers and wonders what they are up to. Are they just going about their business, or are they distrustful survivalists – hurrying home to stockpile food and guns? Or crazed cultists planning to hasten in an age of terror? We don’t know, but that fear (and some glorious horror style bass lines in the back of the mix) gives the song an undercurrent of anxiety. Petty doesn’t leave us without hope, however, ending the song with:
“Waiting for the sun to be straight overhead
‘Til we ain’t got no shadow at all.”
There’s still time to trust each other. I mean, I would still check for dynamite and tinfoil hats before I got into the car, but it is a nice sentiment.
I would say that the biggest downside to “Hypnotic Eye” is that I oversold it – first to myself and then to friends. When I first heard it I fell in love with its energy and a few key tracks (see below) and I played it a bit too much. On repeat listens it is still solid, but not as interesting as some of Petty’s earlier work.
I also oversold it to friends, some of whom ran out and bought it on my recommendation and then later said “eh…it was OK, but not as good as I expected.” Sorry about that everyone, but even an average Petty album is still pretty awesome, so I’m only a little bit sorry.
Best tracks: American Dream Plan B, Red River, Power Drunk, Shadow People