Tom Petty said in several interviews leading up to the release of Hypnotic Eye this was a return to 1978 and straight-ahead rockers from The Heartbreakers but that turns out not to be true- at least not entirely as the record is far more diverse than that, to its benefit.
Interspersed among the hard-charging numbers are tunes like the noirsh, nocturnal shuffle of "Full Grown Boy," a song that sounds like it belongs in a late night jazz nightclub and the meditative, mysterious "Shadow People," two of the album's highlights. The blues bug that bit the band on Mojo is represented here with "Burnt Out Town" and "Forgotten Man" is straight from the Bo Diddley playbook- more '58 than '78.
There are a number of songs that touch on Petty's past without rehashing it and they do, indeed, rock, whether in the form of the fuzzed riff of first single "American Dream Plan B" or Ron Blair's booming bass on "Fault Lines." Blair's bass is both rhythmic foundation as well as part of the song's hook, something he does again on "U Get Me High." Lead guitarist and Petty's right-hand man for 40 years Mike Campbell continues his reign as one of rock's most unheralded guitar greats. He locks in with Petty and Scott Thurston for a triple-guitar attack on "All You Can Carry" but it's Campbell that stands out. He and keyboard wiz Benmont Tench continue to be recognizable, indispensable "voices" in The Heartbreaker sound.
The other pre-release buzz around the record was how this was an angry Tom Petty, lashing out at corrupt institutions and moral bankruptcy and decay. There is, again, more to the album than that but the lyrics are often penned by the voice of the man who famously declared he won't back down, seething and ornery. This is not a political record; there's an ideological bent but this is less about Left or Right and more about Right and Wrong. Petty isn't writing hymns for a movement but rather advocating for and giving voice to a "Forgotten Man" or "Shadow People," those living in a "Shadow Town" or "Burnt Out Town," fighting for the "American Dream Plan B" against men who are "Power Drunk."
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are vital and interesting at a stage in their career when many peers resort to producing pleasant, listenable facsimiles of their best days or have stopped creating new music altogether, content to play their hits. Hypnotic Eye doesn't eclipse the band's classic records and won't be the album most fans reach for first but is more than strong enough to be considered among their better efforts which is more than enough to recommend it.