Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers is easily one of the longest lasting and most successful classic rock bands in history. With twelve huge studio albums under their collective belts, along with three Tom Petty solo outings, these musicians have long since transcended into the legendary stratosphere. In truth, it’s difficult to imagine that there is still new ground for the Heartbreakers to strike. Yet they did just this back in 2010 with Mojo. While the album wasn’t as successful as their past releases, it’s heavy focus on heartland/blues rock was proof that this was a group still willing to experiment after 40 plus years in the business. For that reason alone, Mojo deserved a spot on any fan’s library of Heartbreakers’ music.
Hypnotic Eye goes down a different path. Instead of showing the public that they have a few tricks up their sleeves by storming forward into different territory, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers chose to look back at their full history for inspiration. The result is an eleven track album (twelve if you include the bonus song) that is a veritable celebration of the Heartbreaks’ catalogue. You have tracks that flashback to their debut self-titled album from 1976 and You’re Gonna Get It! from 1978. These are the jambling rock tunes that made Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers so famous way back when. Yet not ignoring their recent history, some tracks have a blues tinge on par with Mojo. With this combination of genres, Hypnotic Eye lacks cohesiveness but more than makes up for it with some very impressive musicianship.
Their new album opens up incredibly strong with “American Dream Plan B.” As huge fan of albums like Damn the Torpedoes and Into the Great Wide Open, this start instantly appealed to me. It was classic Heartbreakers through and through, anchored by the seemingly unaging vocals by Petty himself. The rocking party continues on for two more tracks with “Fault Lines” and “Red River.” It was honestly a trifecta of killer guitar hooks, an awesome uptempo beat, and a style that would make any longtime classic rock fan happy. Sure, this wasn’t new territory for the Heartbreakers, but it was an amazing call back to what made them popular.
But then it all changes. The moment “Full Grown Boy” starts, it’s clear that Hypnotic Eye won’t be a full on rocking celebration. It will instead feature both upbeat rock and roll and plenty of down tempo tracks. In terms of musicianship, “Full Grown Boy” is a solid song. It’s minimalistic and kept together by some truly impressive guitar and piano work. In contrast to the first three tracks, “Full Grown Boy” is less of a stadium rock party and belongs more in an intimate setting. As part of the album though, this fourth track stands out as being way too different. It takes away from the cohesiveness that the first three tracks started off with. To those people who were hooked in the beginning, “Full Grown Boy” can easily seem like a full on stop.
From that moment onward, Hypnotic Eye bounces back and forth. The beat picks up significantly with “All You Can Carry,” only to drop down to adopt a southern rock style with “Power Drunk.” Just like “Full Grown Boy,” “Power Drunk” is a good song, but it doesn’t exactly fit. And then the trend just continues from there. “Forgotten Man” features heavy rock grooves, “Sins of My Youth” brings it all back down again, only to pick right back up with “U Got Me High.” “Burnt Out Town” almost entirely replaces the heavy guitar with a constant, simple drum beat, piano riffs by Benmont Tench, and Scott Thurston’s swooping harmonica. And then the album ends with “Shadow People,” a slower rock song that feels way too prolonged. “Shadow People” is easily the weakest track and it doesn’t end the album with the aplomb it started with.
At its core, Hypnotic Eye is a celebration of the various styles Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have explored over several decades. It’s a shotgun approach that gives the album an unfortunately disjointed feeling regardless of the incredible musicianship. Their past album may not come even close to their best, but at least Mojo kept itself grounded in a bluesy style. It’s for this reason why the album title is a bit perplexing. When someone is hypnotized, the whole purpose it to be under the hypnotist’s control. With the changing styles, Hypnotic Eye doesn’t keep the listener under control for very long. Whatever hold it has with one track is instantly lost once the next one comes and the listener thinks, “Well that’s different.” By throwing everything into one album, the Heartbreakers do a great job strutting their stuff, but fail to actually create something cohesive.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.