Album review: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ ‘Hypnotic Eye’ loses sight of its target

Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews
Matt Wardlaw

Two and a half stars

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye

As Tom Petty was working on songs for what would become Hypnotic Eye, his 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers, he had a pretty clear goal in mind. Unlike 2010’s blues-heavy Mojo, Petty aimed to instead make an album that would hearken back to the classic sound of the first two Heartbreakers albums.

It didn’t start out that way—they cut a batch of songs and ended up shifting gears when Petty decided that the material was heading in a direction that felt too similar to where they had already been on Mojo. He wanted to turn out more of a rockin’ set that would fall closer to what fans typically expect from a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album. In total, they recorded more than 30 songs to wind up with the 11 tracks that ended up on Hypnotic Eye, which is surprisingly only Petty’s second album with the Heartbreakers in the past 12 years.

Early on, it sounds like he hit the mark on Hypnotic Eye, with engaging tracks like “Fault Lines,” a song that opens with a yowling guitar line from guitarist Mike Campbell laid in against a shuffling beat from drummer Steve Ferrone. “All You Can Carry” is another highlight, a classic driving Heartbreakers rocker with a swaggering vocal performance from Petty, at his lyrical best as he sings “I saw a ghost by the road tonight/And then my mind went away with me/I had a vision in the changing light/Something saying that it’s time to leave.”

That cut demonstrates that Petty is often at his best when he’s telling a story, but unfortunately there’s not enough of that present on Hypnotic Eye. The album feels uneven and a bit scattered, with midtempo tracks like “Full Grown Boy” and the agenda-driven “Power Drunk” killing the momentum of the stronger songs that precede them. Listening to the whole of Hypnotic Eye, one can’t help but think that Petty and Campbell, who self-produced the album with associate Ryan Ulyate, could have used a producer to help them tighten things up. There’s probably an EP’s worth of really solid material to be heard here, but as an album, it falls frustratingly short.

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