Tom Petty's 'Hypnotic Eyes': What the Critics Are Saying

3:59 PM PST 07/29/2014 by Marion Kirkpatrick
Courtesy Reprise Records
Tom Petty, Billboard's cover star, just released his 15th album 'Hypnotic Eyes.'

Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's 15th studio release is a "return to form," according to reviews.

Already selling more than 80 million total albums in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, Tom Petty (along with his perennial band the Heartbreakers) is one of the best-selling artists of all time. But that's no reason to hang up his hat, as the classic rock aficionado has just released his 15th studio album — and 13th with the Heartbreakers — Hypnotic Eye (Reprise).

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Whatever the title may suggest, Hypnotic doesn't focus on the Billboard's cover star's beliefs about transcendental meditation. Instead, Billboard.com's Kenneth Partridge is calling it a "return to form," saying in his 85/100, track-by track review that: "In a sense, it's where he's always been."

"Singing over punchy backings sure to get folks reminiscing about Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises, two of his early classics, Petty takes stock of his life, thumbs his nose at cops and parents, and decides he's happy chasing his foolish rock 'n' roll dreams. He's done some things he's maybe not proud of (see: "Sins of My Youth"), but come out with his soul intact. At the very least, he's not one of those unfeeling, self-oriented, materialistic 'Shadow People' he sniffs at in the final track," says Partridge.

In his four-star review, Rolling Stone's Jon Dolan agrees. "On Hypnotic Eye, the 63-year-old and his eternal Heartbreakers return to the scrappy heat of those early days with their toughest, most straight-up rocking record in many years, deepened by veteran perspective," he says.

"The new album is a return to lucidity after the sometimes generic blues-rock and haphazard lyrics of Mojo," says The New York Times' Jon Pareles. "Nearly every song on Hypnotic Eye puts its main riff right up front, followed by Mr. Petty clearly staking out characters and situations. 'American Dream Plan B' opens the album with just a drumbeat and distorted, choppy guitar chords, with Mr. Petty soon arriving to yowl: 'I'm gonna make my way through this world someday/I don't care what nobody say.'"

Says The New York Daily News' Jim Farber: "The album recalls the formal song structures, chiseled tunes and hard-rocking momentum of yore. It's his catchiest, most sharply focused album in years."

"Hypnotic Eye is being talked about as a return to the sound of gumshoe Petty as heard on 1976's Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and 1978's You're Gonna Get It! This is partly true," says Consequences of Sound's Julian Ring in his more mixed review. "What keeps any song on Hypnotic Eye from matching "American Girl" or "The Wild One, Forever" is quality of songwriting, which shouldn't necessarily come as a shocker. Classicism has no hand in it. Petty's reached a point where he doesn't need to worry about hits, no doubt a liberating position in which to create. But expectations are also lower, and in spots, it's noticeable. Petty and his band have delivered a solid, but not wholly exceptional, batch of songs propelled by sharp lyrical themes and a clear vision. Ranked alongside the Heartbreakers' back catalog, their 13th falls somewhere in the middle."

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"It won't convert the unconvinced, but Petty sounds as inspired as ever," says NME's Mischa Pearlman, also giving Petty a mixed review.

"Though he has lived in California for decades, he remains a child of the South, and when his drawl breaks into a raspy growl, you can feel the pulse of a song rise, the anger bubbling to the surface," says The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot. "Petty stays contained, but there's a sense that things could pop any second. It's there in the diminished expectations outlined in 'American Dream Plan B' and the has-been's lament 'Forgotten Man.'"

And while "fans of Petty have a few stinkers to deal with in a 13-album stretch," adds Kot, "the sun rises in the East, death and taxes will get you every time, and Tom Petty won't let you down. It's also really easy to take what he does, what he makes seem so effortless, for granted."

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