The cover of Hypnotic Eye is one of those ‘magic eye’ pictures that turn into 3D images if you stare at them and cross your eyes for long enough. It’s all part of the philosophy behind Petty’s first album since 2010’s blues-led ‘Mojo’. It’s about looking through rather than at the world, seeking out the real pictures and hidden agendas in politics and religion and taking an entirely new perspective on society.
At least Petty is no longer writing albums attacking lone radio DJs, as on 2002’s The Last DJ, and there is a vague but righteous invective afoot on Petty’s thirteenth album with the Heartbreakers. Taking Springsteen’s lead (again), a politicised Petty explores the increased hardships of modern youth in American Dream Plan B, corruption and inequality in a country that “aint dead but getting close” in Burnt Out Town and its dislocated and discontent populous stockpiling food and weapons for “the war that is coming on judgement day” on Shadow People. The cretinous control freak trampling his underlings in Power Drunk could be an abusive father, a political or religious leader or one-percenter, and if you’re big fan of turning a blind eye to the rampant paedophilia in the Catholic Church, best avoid bonus track Playin’ Dumb and keep on counting off them rosaries. God’ll sort it out, right?
Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell apparently likened the album to the first two Petty albums, from ’76 and ‘78. But don’t expect another American Girl – this, says Petty, is “that band, 30 years later” - but Mike’s got a point. Petty planned “a straight hard-rocking record, from beginning to end” and while the bluesy bedrock of Mojo remains, there is a melodic new wave slant to teenage escape fantasies like All You Can Carry, American Dream Plan B, Fault Lines and Red River, the tale of a woman obsessed with religion, voodoo and superstition.
It’s a shame that, as the album reaches its pointedly political climax on the closing Burnt Out Town and Shadow People, Petty blunts the contemporary thrust of his message by couching them in trad bar-room blues that’ll dislocate them from the younger generation that need to hear this stuff, but Hypnotic Eye has a bite and belligerence rarely found in the sixtysomething rocker.