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Album of the Month: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Hypnotic Eye

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When dropping the needle on Tom Petty’s latest album Hypnotic Eye, it is easy to get whisked back to the late 1970s, when the musician and his band the Heartbreakers put out hard-rocking albums Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976) and You’re Gonna Get It (1978).

Tom Petty Hypnotic EyeHypnotic Eye, which is due out July 29 via Reprise Records, is no-nonsense classic rock at its core, with snarling guitars and swaggering grooves. It’s a direction that the group wanted to take after releasing the Chicago blues-influenced Mojo back in 2010.

“I knew I wanted to do a rock & roll record,” Petty recently told Rolling Stone. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.”

At a time when a big portion of the airwaves is dominated by overproduced electro-pop, Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to stay true to themselves, just like they’ve done during the times when punk, disco, hair metal, grunge, rap-rock and bubblegum pop were all the “next big thing.”

With a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and reportedly over 80 million records sold worldwide, it’s a formula that has served them well throughout their steady and prolific 40-year career.

Still, Hypnotic Eye showcases a harder edge to a lot of the stuff the Heartbreakers have offered in the past.

One only needs to hear the first single, “American Dream Plan B,” to feel the grit.  Stalwart guitarist Mike Campbell, who co-produced the album with Petty and Ryan Ulyate, kicks the track off with a rumbling riff before Petty’s distinctive voice defiantly sings, “I got a dream, I’m gonna fight till it get it right!” for the refrain. When Ron Blair adds a burly bassline, this rumbling train of the album really starts to chug.

Blaring “wah-wah” shrieks from the guitar are paired with a serpentine rhythm in “Fault Lines,” which many critics have tabbed as the best track of the bunch (Ed. Note: It’s definitely in the conversation).  “Fault Lines” also boasts lyrics that could only have been written by a seasoned troubadour like Petty.

Tom Petty Fender
Photo credit: Josh Giroux

“See those fault lines/Laid out like land mines/It’s hard to relax,” Petty drawls, noting the shifts that can happen in everyday life. “A promise broken/The ground breaks open/It falls through the cracks.

“I’ve got a few of my own fault lines/Running under my life.”

Benmont Tench shines on “Power Drunk,” as his expertly restrained keys create a smoky haze that Campbell navigates with sinewy guitar lines.  Moving on, there is somewhat of a bar band feel to “Burnt Out Town,” complete with a harmonica that ads to the track’s rollicking atmosphere, while the record’s cutting closer, “Shadow People,” is the darkest of the new set.

Now on their 13th studio album, it’s impressive that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to capture that rock and roll fire that has served them so well all these years, all while still evolving as a group.

Hypnotic Eye is yet another capable step forward for the legendary outfit.

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