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A Very Good Year
A series covering the best music releases of 2014
10. Neil Young - A Letter Home
9. Bill Mallonee - Winnowing
8. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
Key tracks: "American Dream Plan B," "Fault Lines," "Red River," "U Get Me High," "Shadow People."
Hypnotic Eye was billed as Petty and the Heartbreakers homage to the ‘60s garage rock that first influenced them. Sure, it is that to a degree, but it’s more a return to the sound of their mid/late ‘70s heyday.
And that’s a good thing.
While always rooted in a down home, American sound, Petty has evolved over the years. He followed his jangly, catchy ‘70s albums with a series of slick, powerful hits in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s (“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Free Fallin’,” and countless others). After turning another corner with the gritty alternative rock of 1994’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” he teamed up with Rick Rubin and made three of his best, most musically varied albums, Wildflowers, She’s the One, and Echo.
Since then Petty has been inconsistent. 2002’s The Last DJ, a concept album blasting the greedy record industry, is underrated (the title cut is one of his best songs) but uneven. Follow up Highway Companion was largely uninspired and 2010’s jammy blues workout Mojo was endearing but too long and completely devoid of the hooks Petty excels at.
With Hypnotic Eye that all changed. It’s easily his best since Echo and perhaps the catchiest, most consistent collection he's ever released.
The album is filled with memorable singles that should have been. Snarky garage rock throwback “American Dream Plan B,” grooving Bo Diddley influenced “Fault Lines” and “Forgotten Man,” funky “U Get Me High,” and melodic “Red River” would have all been hits had they been released when great rock music was appreciated. “All You Can Carry” has one of Hypnotic Eye’s best riffs and would have fit nicely on Mojo if it wasn’t so catchy. “Power Drunk” combines the jammy blues of that album with the slick pop of his best ‘80s material.
Petty’s latest also finds him feistier than he’s been in years. “American Dream Plan B” has an attitude we haven’t seen from him since The Last DJ. John Lee Hooker workout “Burn Out Town” is even more overt in its social commentary (“Yeah this is the burnt out town/new Emperor - same clothes/they dancing on the glass ceilings/while the money flows”). Groove oriented “Shadow People” perfectly describes where so many Americans are at today socially and politically: “I ain’t on the left/I ain’t on the right/I ain’t even sure if I got a dog in this fight/I feel like a shadow’s falling over me.” It ends the album thoughtfully.
Tom Petty sounded fresh when he broke onto the scene in 1976 because he combined the pop sensibilities of the Byrds and Beatles, ‘60s garage rock, and contemporary sounds into something uniquely his own. Hypnotic Eye does this better than any album he has released since his ‘70s heyday.
Next: 6. Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.