Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Most rock fans agree TP and his cracking Heartbreakers had a decade-long dream run after their self-titled debut in 76. Their taut Beatles/Byrds pop-rock welded to a nuggety rock'n'roll attitude and Petty's economic songs made their albums sound like collections of snappy singles. And when this Florida-native expanded into “Southern accents” (the title of their impressive sixth album) they seemed unstoppable.
But Petty prematurely aged by becoming a Traveling Wilbury, working with his heroes mostly a decade his senior. Petty's edge was smoothed off for country-rock and on subsequent TP/H albums, despite some successful singles, he often coasted across songs written as acoustic chugs.
Little in the past decade has possessed a vital spark (the 09 Live Anthology however showed what a great stadium band they could be) and the TP/H album Mojo four years ago was a shapeless affair.
This new one is being hailed as more hot-wired, but that's wishful thinking. When the band are given their head this sounds promising, especially on the passably brusque openers American Dream Plan B and Fault Lines (even if musically self-referential). And the politicised closer Shadow People has a low, mildly menacing funk-rock feel (somewhere between Lennon's I Want You and Petty's brooding songs from Southern Accents) which neatly reverts to moody minimalism at the midpoint of its six-plus minutes.
But between those bookends are some indifferent songs: All You Can Carry is studio-cum-stadium rock-by-numbers; Forgotten Man refers back to their debut but Petty is unconvincing despite the committed band; Sins of My Youth has an interesting sentiment (“I love you more than the sins of my youth”) but Petty makes it sound like a lesser George Harrison/Nelson Wilbury off-cut.
U Get Me High is a unmemorable. Power Drunk has a spook-voodoo swamp feel but – like Full Grown Boy which has a slithering jazzy attitude, guitarist Mike Campbell confirming on each he's the star player – both sound beamed in from other albums entirely. Petty connects with 60s Dylan in the surreal blues of Burnt Out Town though, but it's deja-heard.
So the patchy Hypnotic Eye isn't quite the return to form you might be reading about elsewhere.
But you'd always want to hear the Heartbreakers, a band which rarely fails to deliver.