As the band sneaks up on its 40th anniversary, 4 of its 5 original members are still holding strong for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ 13th studio album, Hypnotic Eye. While Petty has made an incredible name for himself as the primary songwriter, many people forget about his rock solid backing band, which is made up of a truly great group of musicians. The current lineup features Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Ron Blair (bass), Scott Thurston (rhythm guitar) and Steve Ferrone (drums).
You can stream the album until its official July 29th release date via NPR. You can also check out the leading single from the album, “Fault Lines,” below.
The success of the latest project from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye, depends highly upon the point of view of the listener. That could be said for any album of course, but when a band has been around for 40 years, it becomes much more applicable. The album features many songs that scream the classic sound of the band, allowing loyal fans to reminisce and get lost in the familiar sound and the average fan to put it in the “I’ve heard it before” rack. However, there are also a few unique, new sounding tunes as well, showing a bit of a sense of experimentation and adventure.
“American Dream Plan B” starts off with a slightly grungier, more distorted sound than we’re used to from The Heartbreakers. Due to Petty’s well-known political activism, it is not surprising that the lyrics speak of the current state of America and fighting for that “American Dream” we all seek. “Fault Lines” takes over with a driving rhythm and relatable lyrics. The basic idea behind it is that everyone has faults, even Tom Petty apparently! A rockin’ lead guitar and harmonica bridge tops off the tune. “Red River” features some haunting bass in the first part of the verse, which contrasts sharply from the harmonic second part. A beautiful, harmonic bridge is followed by a shredding guitar solo. The lyrics speak of self-introspection. “Full Grown Boy” has a soft, jazzy rhythm to it. Again, the lead guitar takes on a mind of its own.
“All You Carry” moves back to the classic, driving rock sound we are used to from the band. We also see a familiar Petty theme of leaving the past behind and running straight on into the future. “Power Drunk” has a slower groove, but it is heavy and dark. Here is another unsurprising theme of power and corruption, considering Petty’s well-known fights against record labels and music publishers in the past. “Forgotten Man” is another relatable tune, very astutely describing that feeling that all of us have at some point in our lives, especially artists, of being set off to the side. Whether it be set to the side by a loved one or a fan or just life in general, we have all experienced it before.
“Sins Of My Youth” brings back the jazzy feel, with a sort of Latin jazz or samba rhythm, “U Get Me High” brings back more classic, driving rock, “Burnt Out Town” steps up with a foot-stompin’ bluesy rhythm and “Shadow People” finishes up the album with a slow, dark composition.
Overall, the album is solid. For someone listening to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers for the first time, it would be a really great album. Long-time, die-hard fans will still love it, but I believe the average music fan will come out disappointed. The themes are old, and most of the songs sound like they haven’t changed since 1976, aside from a couple of exceptions. Musically and structurally, the album is very sound, but they are just not coming up with anything new or exciting. They are not pushing the envelope. If you are a band that has been making music for 40 years, you have to extend beyond the expected to stay great. Otherwise, it is just repetition. Tom Petty, however, has some of the most loyal fans in the industry, and, as I am sure any of us would do in his situation, as long as fans want more, he will continue to give it to them, and I applaud the band for continuing to create and do what they love.
– “Ragin'” Randy Harris (@raginrandy247)