Tom Petty's standing as one of rock and roll's elder statesmen is now unimpeachable.
Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has always had an eye for his cultural and political surroundings, he took a hard left turn with 2002's "The Last DJ." With "Hypnotic Eye" (Warner Bros.), Petty & the Heartbreakers use the blues to champion the working class and rail against the elite, without losing the catchy tunefulness that has made him so approachable.
The album is bookended by caustic takes on the country's current state. Opening with "American Dream Plan B," with its rumbling, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, Petty is saying young people should focus on happiness instead of economic success, since the latter is basically impossible now. It closes with "Shadow People," in which Petty warns in between Mike Campbell's snarling guitar solos and Benmont Tench's ominous keyboards, "I ain't on the left and I ain't on the right. I ain't even sure I got a dog in this fight."
Petty's scathing remarks impressively never lose their momentum. He pairs his personal tale of escaping his burning home with bluesy guitar flourishes from Campbell in "All You Can Carry" and turns it into a broader example for America. On "Power Drunk," he contemplates the negative effects of authority while Campbell contemplates "Let It Bleed"-era Rolling Stones.
Not only is "Hypnotic Eye" one of the best albums in the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers catalog, it shows that the 63-year-old Petty is ready for a Bob Dylan-like artistic resurgence.
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
THE GRADE A
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BOTTOM LINE Bruising blues-tinged rock from a master