Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

"I'm old enough to have lived in a country where, if you were willing to work hard, you could have a fairly nice life. You could support your family, and even get a shot at owning your own home. But you never thought you'd get a swimming pool. Now culture has hypnotised people into thinking they're really nothing if they're not wealthy and a Kardashian" - Tom Petty


I have covered most of Tom Petty's career here, including his solo albums, although they all sounded very much like Heartbreakers ones, so I have lumped them all together....

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers came on to the scene in 1976, after a few years gigging as Mudcrutch, and because of the time they emerged, they were considered punk. I guess they had a swagger and wore leather jackets, but they were no Ramones. They were, quite simply, a Southern States US rock band, albeit with a penchant for short, concise, sometimes fast-paced rock songs. Their influences were The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and even 60s pop bands like The Searchers.
Their debut album has a rough-edged rudimentary sound and kicks off with the Beatles-ish Rockin' Around (With You) and then we get the bluesy, organ-led slow rock of Breakdown, which remained a favourite for years. It is the second best track on the album. Hometown Blues was a far too short, sharp piece of Southern rock, where Petty’s strange, at times weak voice was exposed somewhat, as indeed it was on the slightly Springsteenesque The Wild One/Forever

Despite that, though, he clearly had something. These are good, punchy, riffy and catchy rock songs. Quite what the punks saw in these Southern States boys to let them in to their anarchic movement, however, is unclear. This was just US riffy rock. 

The semi-hit single, Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll was a hit with the punky/new wave crowd. I guess it had that attitude they liked and The Heartbreakers’ image sort of went along with that of The Ramones or The Dead Boys. I remember seeing the band live in 1977 and they played their rocking set to a crowd of pogoing punks. Strangered In The Night was a slab of Bourbon-soaked rock with a vague bit of punk attitude, sort of Lynyrd Skynyrd meets the Patti Smith Group. The thing about US punk was that bands like these, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Television, Blondie and so on were considered punks. They were quite different from their UK equivalents. Fooled Again (I Don't Like It) has a Stonesy sneer to its vocal delivery and a rumbling, down n dirty slow-paced rock feel. 

Mystery Man
 has an addictive, slightly reggae skank to its guitar parts, backed by some jangly Byrds-style guitar at the same time and a appealingly lazy Petty vocal. This is a favourite from the album. It is pretty hard to categorise however. A problem I do have with all of the album, though, is the sound. It is supposedly remastered but is tinny, lacking in punch or depth of bass. A lot of Tom Petty’s earlier material suffers this way, and is often better heard on his later live performances. 
Luna is a mysterious, slow rumbler with some fine organ, keyboard and drum parts but a bit of on odd vocal. I believe Petty’s voice improved considerably over the years, though.

The album’s jewel in the crown is, of course, the mighty American Girl with its wonderful guitar intro and similarly impressive extended guitar ending. The song was also used to great effect in the film The Silence Of The Lambs. Listening to that intro now, it just makes we think again that this album could really do with a remastering. Tracks from it (American Girl, The Wild OneBreakdown and Hometown Blues) are given a bit of a clean-up on the Anthology compilation, where they are clearer and certainly bassier, which is good to hear. It makes them sound better tracks. 
Much as this album is a reasonably pleasant listen an is pretty nostalgic for 1977, I have to say it is nothing special. The band were to produce much better.

You're Gonna Get It! (1978)

After a quite successful debut album from 1976, with some patchy moments, but two copper-bottomed Petty classics in Breakout and American Girl, the Florida band were back with more of the same Southern, vaguely punk-associated bluesy rock.
The first thing that hits me, though, is that eighteen months between the albums, the sound quality has improved immeasurably (or is it just the remastering?). 

The first track, When The Time Comes, sets the the tone. It is a vibrant piece of mid-pace soulful rock with a far richer, warmer, bassier sound than on the previous album’s material. The comfortable medium groove, slightly bluesy rock continues with You're Gonna Get It, which has an impressive drum sound. That strong backing - drums, bass and Byrds-style guitar licks is carried on into the upbeat, vibrant Hurt. All these years later, though, I still find myself having trouble accepting Tom Petty’s voice, but, as I said in the review of the first album, it has a certain something that just suits the recordings. It wouldn’t be the same without him. However, with all Tom Petty albums, I enjoy listening to them, but there is often a lack of truly standout material. By that, I mean songs that really stick in your mind as they do with, for example, Bruce Springsteen. The songs are all good, the general atmosphere is a rocking one. All ok. But often there is just nothing that really gets you by the whatever.

On to this album, though, Magnolia is a laid-back piece of country-ish rock with a nice hook and Too Much Ain't Enough is a fast-paced number that would have kept the punks happy - who inexplicably claimed Petty as one of their own in 1977-78. This Southern States rock was always slightly incongruous among gig listings for The Ramones, The Stranglers, Talking Heads, The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and The Jam but it was accepted as part of the “new wave”. It was the attitude, I guess. It just seemed to fit the times. The Heartbreakers were an honest, hard-working band with no pretensions or “rock star” mannerisms, so that would appeal to the “sweep the decks clean/back to basics” punk ethics.

I Need To Know
 is a piano-driven rocker that is so reminiscent of a lot of the Bruce Springsteen session tracks from 1977-78 that appeared on Tracks and The Promise, while my favourite from the album, Listen To Her Heart has such as Searchers-Needles And Pins intro it’s untrue. Great song, however. 
There is something about the bass line on No Second Thoughts that reminds me of American Girl and, for me, there are strong hints of The Rolling Stones’ Factory Girl. Some interesting instrumentation used on it too. Restless is big, strong, powerful and has a killer chugging guitar riff and a suitably strong vocal. Make no mistake, this is a blues ROCK song. Not a punk song. Not a new wave song. Not white reggae. Not post punk. It is rock. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were a rock band. The final track, Baby's A Rock 'n' Roller is an almost glam rock-styled track that proves it. These early albums were all somewhat short, all over in about half an hour. All enjoyable though, but no works of genius. I prefer this to the debut album, however, it has a fuller sound and is generally more polished.

Damn The Torpedoes (1979)

This was the album that “broke through” (to paraphrase Petty) for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. After two short but occasionally impressive albums, they really got their whatever together for this one. The first thing that hits you is how much better the sound is. It is now full, defined, powerful and with the bass given the oomph it needed. If only the debut album had been recorded like this, I am sure I would view it differently.                                    

The quality is there right from the off with the rousing, fist-pumper, Refugee, with Petty on fine vocal form, far stronger than previously, and a killer hook. When you think it couldn’t get any better, it does, with the anthemic rocker, Here Comes My Girl. It was 1979 by now and punk sensibilities didn’t matter so much (not that they ever did to Petty, he just got lumped in with it all, by default). It was ok to produce solid Southern States rock and the public wanted it. The powerful Even The Losers is even more Bruce Springsteen circa the Tracks sessions era than I Need To Know from the previous album. 

Shadow Of A Doubt (Complex Kid) is incredibly like Graham Parker in its sneering vocal delivery. Petty’s voice is so much better now than the often bleating sound he gave us on the debut album. Even some bongos on the backing on this one and some searing lead guitar. Great stuff. Century City sounds a lot like Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac, speeded up, in places. It is another great rocker, though. You get the impression this is a band who have got it exactly as they want it now. This is as perfect as the debut album was frustrating. Next up is the wonderful piano intro to Don't Do Me Like That, one of Petty’s best ever songs, for me. It rocks, majestically, from beginning to end. Petty’s voice has never sounded as good either. No bleating now, that’s for sure. This song never fails to impress me.

The mysterious You Tell Me is slow-paced, slow-burning slice of Southern bluesy rock. Some great guitar and swirling organ backing. The subtle, melodic bass is finally given the mastering it deserves on this album, too. Most noticeable on this track. Love this one. 
What Are You Doin' In My Life? is a rocking tale of a girl stalking Petty around on tour, it seems. Again, it has serious Springsteen rocking intonations all through it and Graham Parker again, as well. Petty’s voice and the superb playing of The Heartbreakers always makes the tracks his own, however. 

The funny noises at the start of Louisiana Rain will have startled for a split second before the track eventually, after a minute, launches into some majestic, marvellous bluesy rock. It has a live gig full sound and the track is quite lengthy, a nice change for Petty, as many of his earlier tacks ended too early. This is a great one, some mournful vocals in the verses and a kick ass chorus part. A wonderful guitar/harmonica appears part half way through - Petty never sounded better.

Hard Promises (1981)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers albums, by now, 1981, were becoming trustworthy, more of the same impressive fare offerings. 1979's Damn The Torpedoes had established Petty and his band as a solid outfit worthy of respect from both the rock and the new wave fraternities. After the slightly dodgy sound of the band's first two albums, this, their fourth outing, finds a better quality of sonic delivery.

There is not too much analysis that can be given to these Petty albums - he was a deceptively good rock songwriter and his band could play. The first two tracks are the ones that instantly stand out - The Waiting, which became the album's fan favourite, and the anthemic rock of A Woman In Love (It's Not Me). The former is one of those archetypal Petty upbeat rock songs, full of anthemic hooks and killer guitar riffs and the later is a fine example of his slower, but equally punchy numbers.

Nightwatchman has a sort of funky rock vibe about it. Something Big is a brooding, Stonesy slow burner and Kings Road sees the riffiness return on a typical Petty rocker. Presumably, judging by the lyrics, it is about a visit to the legendary London street. 
Letting You Go also ticks all the boxes of requisites for a slow but catchy Petty number. It has a lot of John Mellencamp influence.

A Thing About You
rocks as hard as anything on the album, with hints of River-era Bruce Springsteen and Graham Parker in the song. Check out that great guitar intro. 
Insider is a walking pace, organ-powered maudlin-ish number, with Petty's voice delivering in that strange, slurry tone of his to great effect. In many ways, his voice is awful, but in other respects, his songs wouldn't sound the same without it. The chunky rock of The Criminal Kind sounds very much like Bob Dylan did around the same period, both vocally and musically. You Can Still Change Your Mind ends the album on a low-key, but dignified note. The thing I find with these albums is that none of the songs, or indeed the album as a whole particularly sticks in your mind, yet at the same time it is still a quality offering. You can't argue with it, not in any way, but neither can you make a case for it being extra special.

Long After Dark (1982)

I have read a few criticisms of this 1982 album from Petty and his Heartbreakers, accusing it of being formulaic and tired. I am having none of that - it is a vibrant, rocking enjoyable album. Yes, it betrays some traits of its era, but it still retains a strong rock flavour. 

A One Story Town is a riffy opener with a sharp percussion sound and that familiar new wave meets jangly sixties rock vibe to it. It has a very early eighties new wave feeling about it. As it was the eighties, the use of synthesisers is creeping in, and they are certainly there on the admittedly catchy riff of You Got Lucky. Parts of the keyboard break remind me a lot of Billy Joel's All For Leyna. Deliver Me returns to a more-guitar-dominated Stonesy sound on a nice piece of solid period rock. The drum sound brings to mind much of the material from Bruce Springsteen’s River sessions, not for the first time with Petty. Even more owing a debt to The Stones is the weighty riffery of Change Of Heart. I really like this track. It also has a typical power pop-new wave-style vocal, such as used by The Jags or Graham Parker, again not for the first time. 

Liveliness and full-on rock attack continues on Finding Out. There is a bit of typical eighties unremastered  tinniness on these tracks, but that doesn't detract from the general overall energy. This one bristles from beginning to end. We Stand  A Chance is a very eighties-sounding mid-pace rocker with some nice sharp riffs and the same can be said for the also chunkier and bassier Straight Into Darkness

The Same Old You is an attractively lazy-sounding seventies-style number and a clunking piano drives on Between Two Worlds. I do accept that there is a bit of a sameness about these tracks and they are ones that don’t really stick in the mind, but they are still enjoyable to listen to. Some of Petty’s songs have always been a bit like that, which is probably why he never made it properly to the top table. The final number, A Wasted Life, sees a bit of a change in its sleepy melody and slurry vocal that sounds like a cross between slow Springsteen and slow Stones. Although the album’s best material comes at the beginning, it is a pleasurable short sharp blast of inconsequential rocking air. 

Southern Accents (1985)

This 1985 Tom Petty album saw him influenced by contemporary sounds, some vaguely country-ish melodies and also, notably, funk and disco, would you believe. In a similar way to The Rolling Stones in the eighties, he managed to successfully merge his trademark riffy rock sound with rhythms borrowed from popular dance music. This makes this a surprisingly fresh and innovative album. It is one of my favourites of his. 

Rebels has a nice bassy riff underpinning it, and is full of atmosphere, but the main body of the song is frustratingly muffled and Petty’s vocal sounds as if he has just got up with a serious hangover, being equally indistinct. Despite these sonic problems, however, I still like the song. It Ain’t Nothing To Me is a classic piece of Stonesy funk rock that brings to mind Dance (Part One) from their 1980 Emotional Rescue album. The bass line reminds me of Queen’s disco dabbling and there is a Mike Garson on Aladdin Sane-inspired piano break too. It boils with white funk grooves, disco-ish horn breaks and razor sharp riffs and is a most unusual departure from the usual for Petty. I love it. 

The big popular track from the album that dominated the airwaves was the anthemic and stately Don’t Come Around Here No More. There is not much to be said other than it is simply a great track, why, I even love the synthesiser breaks. The Free Bird-esque up in tempo at the end is rousing too. Get a load of that wah-wah guitar at the end. The tempo drops on the sombre but balefully appealing Southern Accents, which sees Petty getting all emotional about the Southern States. A real favourite of mine is the superbly frothy Make It Better (Forget About Me), which bubbles over with poppy funk in another serious change of style for Petty. It reminds me of Southside Johnny’s brassy, dancey stuff in the eighties.

Spike is a brooding, swampy serving of country-influenced rock and soul. It has a captivating backbeat and some Dire Straits style guitar. Dogs On The Run is another gem, loaded with uplifting riffs and breaks and a slurringly enticing Jaggeresque vocal. Talking Of Jagger, Mary’s New Car has a really Stones-like riff and some delicious smoky saxophone breaks underpinning it. There has not been a sub-standard track on here and the quality continues right up to the end with the typically evocative Petty slowie in the lovely The Best Of Everything. Once more there is a Southside Johnny style brass backing together with a hint of Jackson Browne in the vocal delivery, in places. This was a great album, maybe Petty and his excellent band’s best, for me, anyway.

Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)

Lots of influences from Dire Straits-Mark Knopfler, Springsteen and eighties-era Dylan can be heard here. This was the time that Petty and The Heartbreakers were touring as Dylan's backing band and you can tell. I really like the rootsy rock sound on this album and always thoroughly enjoy every track. It is a bit of an underrated album within Petty's canon - I prefer it to Wildflowers and Southern Accents, for example. I love the Knopfler-esque melodic rock-blues vibe that dominates the whole album, making it one of his very best, in my opinion.

Full Moon Fever (1989)

Tom Petty solo albums are odd things. This was his first one from 1989 and, rather like Bruce Springsteen often used members of the E Street Band on his supposedly solo albums, Petty saw several of his Heartbreakers turning up to appear on this one. I don’t really know why he bothered calling them solo albums, to be honest, if some of the Heartbreakers were there. The sound and the vibe was exactly the same as a Heartbreakers album.

Despite the presence of some eighties synthesisers, the sound is still a rocking one, powered along by those typical jangly guitar sounds. Heartbreakers or no Heartbreakers, the sound sounds indistinguishable to me, really. Therefore, I tend to lump the solo albums together with the Heartbreakers albums.

Either way, this was an extremely successful album. It is a really good one too, without a bad track on it. It rocks from beginning to end in fine, lively, flowing style. Free Fallin’ is an instantly recognisable and seductively slow-burning but anthemic number, as is the charismatic, insistent, singalong I Won’t Back Down. Those were two copper-bottomed Petty classics to kick the album off with. A great start, I have to say. Both the slightly Billy Joel-ish piano-synth rock of Love Is A Long Road and the understated sound of A Face In The Crowd are both chugging and appealingly competent rockers. 

The tempo gets right up with the wonderful riffing of Runnin’ Down A Dream, with its name check for Del Shannon’s Runaway. This a is great track that doesn’t let up for a minute, acoustic and electric guitars merging perfectly. It is quite irresistible. Petty always loved The Byrds and his cover of  I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better is pretty much definitive. Yer So Bad is an upbeat acoustic-driven folky rocker with wry lyrics about Petty’s sister marrying a yuppie. 

Depending On You is a jangly, new wave-ish rocker with hints of Graham Parker about it. The quality really isn’t letting up at all here. The same can be said for the John Mellencamp riff-powered rock of The Apartment Song, which contains a Peggy Sue drum bit in the middle, along with a very T. Rex-influenced riff. The pace slows on the sleepy acoustic strains of the short Alright For Now. Not to worry, rock fans, though because two fine toe-tappers end this excellent album in the vaguely mid-sixties Dylanesque A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own and the goofy fun of the Elvis Costello & The Attractions-influenced Zombie ZooThis was rightly one of the most successful and popular Petty albums. It is packed full of vitality and verve, delivered with an infectious enthusiasm by Petty and whatever he chose to call his band.

Into The Great Wide Open (1991)

A solid, very appealing album in the style of the solo album, Full Moon Fever. A most enjoyable, lively listen where every single track is more than acceptable. It doesn't mess with the formula, as was true of most Petty albums, and therein lies both its strengths and its weaknesses - if you like it (as I do), you like it, but if you are looking for something that breaks the mould and innovates, then you won't find it. Then again, Petty & The Heartbreakers were never about changing  much, were they?

Wildflowers (1994)

This was Tom Petty’s second ‘solo’ album (several Heartbreakers were involved). It was intended to be a huge, 25 track album but was eventually released as a still bloated 15 song offering. Personally, that is too long an album, but that should not detract from the quality of the material on offer. Many consider it to be Petty’s finest piece of work. 

It is said to be Petty’s ‘divorce album’ (they all did one of those, didn't they?) and has many soul-searching, emotional songs as opposed to his usual carefree rockers, making it something of a low-key, indigestible listen. 

The title track, Wildflowers, is a deliciously attractive acoustically-strummed number that you expect to kick into full rock mode, but it doesn't and it doesn't matter. It is actually powerful enough anyway. Some nice organ and piano join in to more than enhance it. Great track. 

The band is full on for the next one, though, the harmonica and drums-powered dignified  thump of You Don't Know How It Feels, with its slow but catchy chorus about rolling another joint. This was another top quality song. Time To Move On is an upbeat, later-era Springsteen-esque number whose lively drumbeat is in contrast to Petty's sleepy Knopfler-esque vocal. 

You Wreck Me is a top class Petty rock classic, full of his trademark riffs and vocals. It is a standout track on the album. It’s Good To Be King is a slow but beguiling number that is full of atmosphere. It features a great guitar solo. Only A Broken Heart is a Beatles meets ELO slow ethereal number.

Honey Bee sees a return to solid riffage on a big, chunky, slow-paced rocker. Don’t Fade On Me is a folky, acoustic number with hints of Led Zeppelin III about it in both its acoustic guitar and Petty’s vocal. Hard On Me continues the laid-back ambience. Both these tracks are ok, but they run the risk of being considered part of a bit of a dull phase in the album. That should not take away from the excellent guitar to be found on the latter in particular. Cabin Down Below is a shirt but riffily appealing song, the sort of thing Petty could do in his sleep and has indeed been doing for nearly twenty years. To Find A Friend is also a typical Petty song but this time it is an acoustic number. 

A Higher Place is a Byrds-ish jangly and catchy rocker that also stands as one of the album’s best. House In The Woods is a bit of a dirge, I have to say, something Petty is occasionally guilty of putting out.  It is redeemed by some tough guitar and drum interplay in the middle. The vocal is quite turgid, though, rendering the track interminable. Crawling Back To You is a gentle piece of Fleetwood Mac-ish mellow, steady-paced rock. It is another of my favourites from the selection. Wake Up Time is a sombre, slow ballad to end on. I prefer the more concise nature of many of Petty’s other albums (Full Moon Fever And Highway Companion, for example, his two other ‘solo’ ones) as this one does admittedly suffer from CD bloat - a curse of the CD age. When I dip into this album I am tempted to put it on random and play about eight tracks.

Songs From She's The One (1996)

A more rough-edged, stripped-down, gritty and raw album that was a movie soundtrack but stands up alone as a credible album in its own right (I know nothing of the movie, for example). Although it is slightly sprawling (fifty-one minutes long) and lacks just a little cohesion, it has a down 'n' dirty energy about it. The album contains a couple of covers, too - Change The Locks is a Lucinda Williams song and Asshole is from Beck. Compared to the previous two albums, though, it is not one I find myself returning to very often.

Echo (1999)

An album far more like Wildflowers than Let Me Up or Into The Great Wide Open and one that suffers from CD bloat in that it is way too long at over an hour. I prefer my Petty albums to be more all out rocking (as the afore-mentioned pair were) than ones like this one where the rock is mixed with introspective, sprawling ballads. This is just a matter of personal taste, of course, but I find this sounds like "just another Petty album". I know there are differences in his approach, as I have highlighted here, but, for me, there is a bit of a sameiness about this one. I know a lot of people like the album but, unfortunately, I just can't help but find it all a bit dull. 

Petty is down on this album too, due to his marriage-break up and an air of melancholy pervades proceedings (although he rockingly tells her that she is a free girl now). 

The Last DJ (2002)

This album finds a world-weary, cynical Petty moaning about the music industry, its corporate greed, and that old chestnut - the radio, notably on the title track. However well-meant, it doesn't really come across that well, its singer sounding like an embittered ageing artist. The sound is also a bit over-orchestrated, 2000s-style, in many places (too many strings) and acoustic-driven for my liking - compare it with Let Me Up to hear the difference. I have read a few notable critics say that this was Petty's worst album, which is a bit of a shame as it was relatively near to the end of his career, but I can see what they meant. I can go along with Joe being his worst track, however, no doubt about that. Actually, maybe the Man Who Loves Women is worse.

Highway Companion (2006)

This final 'solo' album, from 2006, was ostensibly intended to be a goodbye to the music industry. As it was, Petty didn't retire. How many artists have said they were retiring but never did? It's in the blood, I guess.

It is a pleasant, if not a bit understated, collection of acoustic and electric-merged new millennium rock. Saving Grace is a rhythmic, riffy pice of vibrant bluesy rock to open with. It has a Southern swampiness to it, along with some infectious, insistent riffs. It reminds me of Willy De Ville's White Trash Girl in some places. The mood immediately changes with Square One, which is a haunting acoustic slow number with a sad vocal refrain. Flirting With Time gets things back up again, slightly, with a solid acoustic and electric rock chugger. It has a catchy chorus too.

Down South is so Dylanesque on the verses to be almost Dylan himself. It reminds me a lot of Love Minus Zero/No Limit on those verses and also has a delicious guitar solo in the middle. It is, despite is derivative parts, a fine song. Jack is a both melodic and chunkily powerful number with a slight mysterious quality to it. The same applies to the slow and muscular Turn This Car Around.

Big Weekend is a lively piece of country-ish Petty rock. It is a familiar serving of Petty fun. Night Driver is a ghostly, Neil Young-ish slower number with Petty's vocal higher than usual. It features some lovely bass and guitar at the end. The mournful Damaged By Love reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, lyrically. Once more, the guitar is superb on here.

This Old Town has Beatles-ish hints in its production. This is not surprising, as the album was produced by Beatles devotee Jeff Lynne. Ankle Deep is a sort of Springsteen meets Dylan dignified and attractive rocker. It is my favourite on the album. It is similar to some of the stuff Petty did with The Traveling Wilburys. Petty's guitar is on fire on the solo, again. The Golden Rose is a Beatles and Dylan type closer with hints of Norwegian Wood in places and a typically anthemic Pretty chorus. Nice bass and guitar feature once more as well as a spacey keyboard ending that is very ELO. Quality stuff.

Mojo (2010)

This was Tom Petty's penultimate studio album. It is one where Petty writes songs in a blues rock style, most of them being as powerful as you would expect, with a lot of Dylanesque influence. They do, however, lack the hooks of his earlier, less bluesy and more rocky material. Songs done in a blues rock fashion invariably are musically sound and grinding but are maybe not as catchy as lighter rock stuff. If you like blues rock, though, as I do, then you will get something out of it. I have to say that it is nice to hear Petty play the blues, something he had never really done previously. He even tries his hand at reggae too. To be honest I can enjoy the whole album pretty easily. 

Hypnotic Eye (2014)

This was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ final album, and it is a deceptively good one. Initially, it sounds a bit harsh and as if it is  trying to sound contemporary but a couple of listens in it starts to get to work on you. 

It is very much a grower. Sure, it is quite a heavy, dark album compared to some of Petty’s past work, but therein lies its slow burning appeal. Those old new wave days seem a long time ago, though. 

American Dream Plan B is a chunky, solid, fuzzy and metallic opener. It is quite un-Petty in places, with a dense, tinny, grungy soundscape. It is full of great guitar breaks, however. Far more bassy, though, is the infectious self-analytical Fault Lines, with its delicious extended instrumental intro and behind the main beat funky edge. I really like this one. Red River is also a strong, industrial strength rocker with vague hints of Bruce Springsteen’s River sessions material. 

Full Grown Boy slows the pace down on a slightly jazzy bass-powered sleepy groove. Check out that great jazz guitar solo in the middle too. Crashing riffage is back for All You Can Carry, which is another dense rocker. This is quite heavy, uncompromising stuff. The deep, slightly menacing Power Drunk ploughs a similar furrow to most of what has been before. It contains some searing guitar and has a sort of grungy psychedelic, garage sound. Forgotten Man has some echoes of the seventies in Petty’s vocals and it is driven along by a huge drum sound, together with some expertly merged, razor sharp acoustic and electric guitars. 

Sins Of My Youth returns to the spacey, jazzy sound of a few songs earlier on a beautifully laid-back number that has a slightly croaky Petty sounding vaguely like an ageing Bryan Ferry. It is a most attractive number. The Prince-like titled U Get Me High bristles with unsubtle guitar attack. Once more, I find it is a track that really gets into my bloodstream. The blues finally makes an appearance on the quirky, harmonica-led Burnt Out Town, which features a distant, unusual-sounding vocal and some killer piano from Benmont Tench. Shadow People was the final track on the final album and a fine one it was too, full of atmosphere and great instrumentation. As it always was.

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