“Take what you can and leave the past behind,” Tom Petty advises in “All You Can Carry,” a song on “Hypnotic Eye,” his new album with his long-running band, the Heartbreakers.
It’s not advice he follows himself. The past matters a lot on “Hypnotic Eye.”
There are the checkered pasts and iffy prospects of the songs’ narrators, and of the America where they live. And there’s the treasured musical past of the 1960s and 1970s; the band’s arrangements on “Hypnotic Eye” knowingly allude to the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Traffic, the Byrds and Petty’s own early hits.
Petty shares four decades of the past with the Heartbreakers, including two members who have been with him since the band started in 1975: Mike Campbell on lead guitar and Benmont Tench on keyboards.
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“Hypnotic Eye” circles back to the lean, handmade sound of both the 1970s Heartbreakers and the band’s 2010 album, “Mojo”; it comes across as a band playing together in real time.
The new album is a return to lucidity after the sometimes generic blues-rock and haphazard lyrics of “Mojo.”
Nearly every song on “Hypnotic Eye” puts its main riff right up front, followed by Petty clearly staking out characters and situations.
“American Dream Plan B” opens the album with a just a drumbeat and distorted, choppy guitar chords, with Petty soon arriving to yowl: “I’m gonna make my way through this world someday/I don’t care what nobody say.”
His characters aren’t worldbeaters. They’re older, wearier versions of the stubborn strugglers Petty has written about for decades. An apologetic lover in “Sins of My Youth” describes himself as “worn and wounded, but still the same.” In “Fault Lines,” a blues-rock rumba somewhere between the Doors and Los Lobos, Petty sings, “I got a few of my own fault lines/Running under my life.”
While each narrator pushes onward, the odds against him are rising.
“Burnt Out Town,” a cackling blues-rocker, notes, “There’s ashes on Main Street/And the mayor is cooking the books.”
In “Shadow People,” Petty sings about scary types like one gun-toting guy: “When he’s afraid/He’ll destroy everything he don’t understand.”
As romance, ethics, community and the economy collapse, Petty and the Heartbreakers offer two old-fashioned bulwarks: the solidarity of the band and the sinewy construction of the songs.
Jon Pareles, New York Times