Stream Tom Petty's new album 'Hypnotic Eye'

Tom Petty. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Tom Petty. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:47 PM ET

He’s still not backing down. Or selling out, more importantly.

Nearly four decades into his recording career, 63-year-old Floridian Thomas Earl Petty steadfastly remains one of the most defiantly stubborn SOBs ever to strap on a Rickenbacker.

Not coincidentally, he’s also one of the most solidly dependable artists around.

Hypnotic Eye, his 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers (and 16th overall), is distinguished not only by what it embraces, but also by what it almost-pointedly ignores.

Unlike the work of far too many of Petty’s increasingly desperate contemporaries, this disc features no superstar producers with cartoon names, no country/EDM/hip-hop crossovers, no celebrity cameos, no high concepts, no gigantic radio-ready hits.

Hell, it doesn’t even have a picture of the man himself on the front cover — or a song that mentions the title.

What it does have, thankfully, is about 45 minutes of Petty doing precisely what he was put on this planet to do: Play simple, straightforward, slow-burning meat-and-potatoes heartland rock with plenty of rootsy jangle — and this time around, with dashes of blues, some garage-rock, an occasional Latin groove and even a bit of punchy spy-movie twang.

All of it is performed (and was presumably penned) on old-fashioned instruments: Electric guitars, real drums, piano and organ, a harmonica now and then.

Some of it deals with the death of the American dream, the corrupting influence of power and wealth, the disenfranchisement of survivalists and extremists, even the hypocrisy of religion and pedophile priests.

But mostly, it continues to chronicles the lives of guys like Petty: Guys who never seem content and settled. Guys who always seem to be looking for something they can’t quite find, be it love, success, or understanding. Guys who don’t give a damn about what you or anybody else thinks. And guys who stand their ground even when it’s giving way beneath their feet, and who aren’t going down without a fight.

Once again, the secret weapons in Petty’s arsenal are his bandmates — chiefly lead guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, whose stellar performances elevate these tracks far beyond their basic structures and classic approach (though Ron Blair’s fluid basslines, drummer Steve Ferrone’s in-the-pocket understatement and Scott Thurston’s solid riffs and blues harmonica also deserve mention).

But as always, Petty is the guy who commands your attention with his snarling drawl, his sneering lyrics, and the fire in his belly.

You’ll know it; it matches the one in his eye.


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