Sound — 10
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' signature sound of crisp guitars, bright keyboards and catchy lyrics of American life were a constant feature of the musical landscape from the mid '70s well into the late '80s with Petty's "Full Moon Fever" solo album (tho effectively thought of as a Heartbreakers record). Dealing out hit record after hit record with apparent ease was the norm but since the 1990's Petty's output has been somewhat patchy. Not surprising, as Petty has aged his view on the world will have changed with it and like every songwriter the angst and energy of youth gives way to middle aged comfort. Petty's work over the past 2 decades has has not been without merit and bares the unmistakable DNA of his back catalog but without the same standard of songwriting and has missed an edge which really drives the song forward.
Right from the start it's clear this is an album with a renewed vigor, almost a message of intent - The Heartbreakers aren't done just yet.
"American Dream Plan B" kicks straight in with a dirty power chord stab and a snarly angst which sounds more like 3 teenagers in a garage than 5 60-somethings in a plush studio. The chorus kicks in at odds with the feel of the verse, in a pleasing way, with shining chords and bright piano, unmistakably Petty territory and the album is off to flying start. "Faultlines" is driven by a catchy bass hook and simple lead guitar phrases which has the feel of a band in full control of their music while still feeling like they're on the edge which really gives the song an exciting driving momentum and the album continues this way thought out. "Hypnotic Eye" gives you same felling that all the classic Heartbreakers have done; that' you driving down the open road in American Midwest, top down, toe tapping tunes, a sense of adventure and excitement.
Lyrics — 9
"But I'm half-lit/I can't dance for sh-t/But I see what I want/I go after it." - "American Dream Plan B."
While the classic Heartbreakers' edge is back in their sound, so it's back in the lyrics too. Petty's songwriting has always been at the center of The Heartbreakers' success. Songs such as "Refugee," "American Girl," "I Won't Back Down" and "Listen to Her Heart" have stood the test time due to Petty's timeless storytelling. The same keen eye for describing life either looking outwards at the world ("Power Drunk") or introvertedly at himself ("Forgotten Man," "Sins of My Youth") or a love song everyone can find themselves in the protagonists point of view ("U Get Me High") are all here.
Overall Impression — 9
I wasn't expecting too much from "Hypnotic Eye," but it's delight from start to finish. Mike Campbell's guitar playing is as tasteful and catchy as ever. Benmont Tench's keyboards lift the record with an understated feel, while Ron Blair and Steve Ferrone's rhythm section keeps the band driving forward with an almost hurried urgency. "All You Can Carry" is the standout track. This song, along with "Forgotten Man" could have been recorded for any of Petty's classic albums such as "Damn The Torpedoes" or "Long After Dark" and not have been out of place at all. I didn't think The Heartbreakers had this left in the tank but it's great to hear one rock 'n' roll's great songwriters back to their very best.