Indie Before There Was Indie
Writing for an indie website about heartland rock n roll is a strange thing. At least that’s what most people would label Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, heartland rock. They’re more like being indie before indie was a word. That jangly D chord at the start of “American Girl” is indie through and through. Having said this, rigidly labeling music is a bit of a hack thing to do. It was jazz great Duke Ellington that once said, “There’s only two types of music, good music and bad music.” He was dead right with that one.
Over a forty year recording career, Tom Petty has often covered some dark issues in his music. There has always been a feeling of restlessness which has been echoed by the likes of Springsteen and Pearl Jam. Right from the start of this new album the grit rings through. “American Dream Plan B” is a catchy raw energetic and youthful tune for a man in his mid 60’s. Still he manages to show hope amid the restlessness, “I got a dream I’m gonna fight until I get it right”.
“Fault Lines” has a Halloween desert rock sound to it, whatever those labels mean. Queens of the Stone Age could cover it. It’s fun, but the lyrics are dark, “Betrayal and broken promises and fault lines running under his life”. Bleak. The guitars are fun on this one. From here it’s clear this album has got anger in it. Anger and disappointment.
“Red River” is more of what we know Tom his Heartbreakers to sound like, this is that heartland sound. The chorus has been heard before but the lyrics suggest many images. There’s a meeting at night by a river with a girl, a classic scenario for this restless music. There’s talk of cheery Jesus in a picture frame, talking in tongues, snakes above her head, soul searching, a rabbits foot, a tiger tooth and them not doing the trick. Evocative stuff. A gentle solo in the second half brings the song home.
“Full Grown Boy” sports a laid back jazz sound, not typical of The Heartbreakers. This breaks new ground for the band which is impressive considering they been playing together for nearly forty years. The vocals flow and the guitar lines are soulful and gentle.
“All You Can Carry Again” has that typical theme of leaving the past behind and running, burning bridges and saving souls. There’s a scorching guitar solo with high octave screeches and a bit of Heartbreakers jangle mixed in. It does however sound like a throwback to their earlier material, as does the song to follow it, “Power Drunk.” Which is a bit slower and a fairly average song. A bit of a filler is sneaking in.
“Forgotten Man” is a jumpy song, raw and bitter but with such energy that he demands to be remembered. I reckon they cranked up the reverb to 10 on this one, it echoes for most of the track. “Sins of my Youth” is gentle, worn and wounded. Petty sings about the mistakes he’s made, the past getting in his face. It’s a sweet song with redemptive qualities. I forgive him for his sins and she should too.
From here I think it was time to crank up the energy before the album runs out of time. “U Get Me High” is a nice uptempo guitar laden track! But it’s what’s after it that really does the cranking. “Burnt Out Town” sounds like it was recorded in a filthy bar with some cranky, scraggly band playing filthy blues, the harmonica echoes the vocals. The guy is bragging about stealing gas with a garden hose before the piano player Belmont Tench starts in with a raw solo. It’s nasty but it sounds good.
“Shadow People” is another filler track. It has an adequate wandering solo but it feels like they just wanted fill up the tracklist.
Hypnotic Eye has a few fillers. Leave out “Power Drunk”, “U Get Me High”, and “Shadow People” and you have an eight track album of consistent quality and importance for a band of their age. It’s a shame artists don’t typically have less than 10 songs on an album, there’d be a better average of great albums if they did. Yet this is still a very good album. Pleasantly surprising.
Hypnotic Eye – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers