For the life of me, I don’t know why I bought Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty’s 13th and final studio album, released in July of 2014. What I mean to say is this: A lot of the makers of the music of my life release albums, and I don’t buy many of them. In the last decade, I’ve bought a new Metallica CD, but I didn’t buy the other one. I bought a Def Leppard CD and one from Dokken, when I didn’t buy albums by acts that I liked just as much or more.
Every now and then I guess, something happens to put a new release in my sights. Such was the case with Hypnotic Eye; I bought it when it had probably been about 20 years since I’d last bought a Petty album. Man, am I glad I did.
In purchasing this album, I not only got a collection of songs, but I got a thing that I know can bring pleasant emotion when I allow it to be present in my life. It’s great to know the things that can do that, to make us feel better. The world, and our lives, has so much that can make us feel crappy, if we let it, so it’s good to recognize those things that can flip the script for us.
For over three years I’ve known that, when the stresses of life get to mounting, I can put on this album and forget about it a little bit.
Hypnotic Eye is a rock and roll album, make no mistake about that. Mr. Petty released albums that were a bit on the folksy side and others that leaned toward the blues, but he was going for rock and roll with this one, and rock and roll is just what he got.
One of the greatest things a piece of music–a collection of songs in this case–can do is break silence well. The guitar riff at the beginning of “Sweet Child of Mine” comes to mind. There was silence and then there was this; this is what came to take the place of the silence, and it is good. These are the lengths of the waves of atoms that pushed those other lengths of waves out of the way, and God just bless ’em for doing that.
It is there when it was not there, and it is good.
“American Dream Part B,” the lead track here, does exactly that. There is nothing, and then there is it. It’s nothing outrageous, just a simple four note riff, but it’s there, and it works, and you’re bought in, a good first impression made. At that point, your attention is there for the musician or group to lose. They have you, and if they don’t go off and do something stupid, they’ll keep you.
Well, in this case, Tom and the boys don’t go off and do something stupid. The feeling of classic rock and roll made new continues with “Fault Lines” and “Red River,” both of which keep the tempo up and both of which could have easily been a first single release.
The band varies the tempo a bit over the final eight songs, going soft and sweet acoustic with “Sins of My Youth” and thoughtfully plodding on “Full Grown Boy,” “Power Drunk,” and “Shadow People”–all of which don’t fail to remain rock and roll songs, but the rest of it is just more of that same classic rock that we’ve come to expect. (Mike Campbell’s guitar work might be stronger on the slower pieces than it is on the vibier jams, and the work he does on “Shadow People” is just freaking blistering.)
“All You Can Carry,” “Burnt Out Town,” “Forgotten Man,” and “U Get Me High” are the rockers that complete the collection, and each is good enough that I can’t imagine the album without them. “All You Can Carry” is especially choice.
All in all, this is just a standout rock and roll album. Back in the summer of 2014, it got a’hold of me and didn’t put me down for four weeks or more. I listened to very little besides it for at least a month–that’s how it goes sometimes when I get my hands on a really choice disk–and when it did set me down, it did so with the knowledge that I had one more piece in the arsenal I use to make life suck less.
A lot of things go into an artist’s legacy, and Tom Petty’s legacy, as it continues to unfold and be discovered, will have more pieces than most. This is just one small part of that legacy, something pleasant that can make you fell less crappy or maybe just divide your attention a bit when you need a Calgon moment. Use it well; I hope it helps.
- The full album doesn’t exist on YouTube in a single video, but “Fault Lines” is an excellent representation of the straight up, straight ahead rock and roll that Tom and the boys offer here, the band’s only Number One album.