Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Hypnotic EyeReprise Records 543243-2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****


It is easy to take Tom Petty for granted. His 13 studio albums with the Heartbreakers, along with his three solo releases, are remarkable for their consistency; he sometimes makes it seem too easy. Like John Mellencamp, he has the ability to write a hit song with seemingly little effort, and at first listen, his recordings can have a workmanlike quality to them. But, coming back to them reveals depth and attention to detail, as well as real emotional commitment.

The last Heartbreakers disc, Mojo (2010), was a late-career masterpiece, with some of Petty’s strongest writing and even a few surprises, such as the jam-band sophistication of “First Flash of Freedom” and the acoustic blues-based “U.S. 41.” The band’s latest, Hypnotic Eye, has a few surprises of its own, including the jazz-tinged “Full Grown Boy” and the expansive “Shadow People,” which has one of Petty’s best lines: “Well 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.”

Guitarist Mike Campbell’s solo on “American Dream Plan B” is all drive and sloppiness, an echo of Keith Richards’ break on “It’s All Over Now.” Campbell is generally a finesse player, so the looseness of that solo is a good indication of the relaxed feel that runs through Hypnotic Eye. The rhythm guitars roar, Steve Ferrone’s drums are steady and solid, and there are no loose ends; this is a band that is confident and at ease.

The sophisticated harmonic structure of the easy-going “Full Grown Boy” is a change of pace for Petty, but at this point there is nothing the Heartbreakers can’t play. Benmont Tench’s shimmering piano lines fill out and deepen the arrangement, and Campbell’s solo -- while not strictly jazz -- is melodic and understated. The song’s segue into the hard-rocking “All You Can Carry” shows how sensitive the co-producers -- Petty, Campbell, and Ryan Ulyate -- are to the fine art of track sequencing.

At nearly six-and-a-half minutes, “Shadow People” is built around a simple-but-effective guitar riff that helps underline the theme of the song: the inability to really know what people are thinking and the fear that it is likely not very good. Hypnotic Eye is a snapshot of America during a time of lowered expectations and disappointment. A number of American archetypes help Petty paint his portrait of the country, and he sometimes casts a dark eye on them. Yet he closes “Shadow People” with a note of hope: “Waiting for the sun to be straight overhead/’Til we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

As a unit, the Heartbreakers are probably the tightest band in rock, comparable to the E Street Band at its peak. The rhythm section is never overpowering, but always solidly in the pocket. Tench adds dimension and color to every track, and Scott Thurston’s guitar and harmonica bring fullness to the arrangements.

Petty, Campbell, and Ulyate do audiophiles the favor of creating a great-sounding rock’n’roll record. The instruments are well balanced and cleanly focused, the soundstage is wide and deep, and the bottom end is rich without pushing out the rest of the instruments. I am eager to hear Hypnotic Eye on vinyl, where I suspect the attack of Ron Blair’s bass playing is better defined. Hypnotic Eye is a great rock’n’roll disc from a premier American band.

. . . Joseph Taylor