Petty & Heartbreakers in hypnotizin' form
Tom Petty and The HeartbreakersHypnotic Eye (Warner Bros)
When Tom Petty first rocked up in Britain with his charting debut album in 1977, he got a rude awakening.
His support act that summer was a feisty Dublin outfit with an eye to the main chance. Petty was taken aback to discover venues liberally plastered with graffiti which warned "Rats eat Heartbreakers." Bob Geldof was demanding attention.
Both men got it.
Bob went on to save the world. And, after a string of hits, Petty got drafted into the ultimate rock'n'roll supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, by George Harrison alongside Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and ELO's Jeff Lynne.
As a kid in Florida he'd been inspired by the spectral presence of a young Elvis Presley. In his teens, he was caught up in the excitement of the British bands who brought rock'n'roll back to the American mainstream. He'd caught the rock'n'roll bug and went on to make his early mark with hits such as Refugee and American Girl.
Since then he's also made solo albums that have featured enduring tracks such as Free Fallin' and I Won't Back Down. With The Heartbreakers, he's now a firmly established cornerstone of the genre that's called "classic rock."
Four years ago the group released Mojo, a blues-inflected set that kept the pot boiling. If you bothered to consider it, you might have felt Petty was settling into a casual mid-life groove.
But now we know he's spent the last three years crafting a collection of eleven songs that sound as fresh and vibrant as his early work. "I never thought I'd be this busy at this point in my life," Petty said recently.
Mr Petty is 63 and Hypnotic Eye counts as his and The Heartbreakers' 13th album.
It opens with American Dream Plan B, a blast of delinquent defiance. "I've got a dream. I'm gonna fight till I get it…". A curious amalgam of the sort of compressed vocal you hear on Cameo's Word Up, vintage widescreen Petty guitar jangle and a blistering electric six-string solo, it's a potent, and welcome, statement of greasy garage band intent.
Fault Lines begins considering life in California where the tectonic plates meet and the unstable stuff in his own make-up. "I've got a few of my own, fault lines running under my life," croaks Petty (inset) wearily as the band supply heavy riffing and a pile-driving beat.
Hypnotic Eye captures a band at the height of its powers. Recalling an era when Little Feat and the Doobie Brothers played for keeps, the musical interplay throughout, particularly between Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell, is riveting. Wilco are another contemporary band who excel in a similar fashion.
It's not all wham-bam. Full Grown Boy has a smooth lounge feel with stylish jazz guitar. Fans will be pleased that trademark Byrdsian flourishes abound, notably on You Get Me High. Perhaps the clunking blues boogie Burnt Out Town could have been left for a bonus track re-issue.
"I feel like a four letter word," bleats Petty on the thunderous Forgotten Man.
He needn't worry. This is good stuff.