There is nothing that startling or spectacular about American Dream Plan B, the opening track on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' new LP, Hypnotic Eye. And yet the attitudinal song, the catchiest cut he's crafted in years, is a jangly revelation nonetheless. It's been awhile since our beloved Gainesville guy sounded like he was having any semblance of fun, a native Floridian in a cold, gray Nebraska gloom.
But lo and behold, on American Dream Plan B, his snakey sneer might actually be a half-smile, too. The garage-greased cut is a blue-collar political rip complete with obvious drums, a cathartic chorus ("Got a dream, gonna fight till I get it right!") and, following a tingly pause, an awesomely acidic guitar racket from second-in-command Mike Campbell. In 1985 — or maybe 1965 — this sucker is a big fat hit.
The rollicking vibe isn't a one-track fluke. That song gives way to the '60s go-go chug of Fault Lines, a burner about chasing your demons (and hoo boy, ol' Tom has plenty of those) with a raised fist and a jam session. With keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Ron Blair laying down a groove, it plays like a sonic sequel to Runnin' Down a Dream, with a midnight-voodoo percussion line and every single noise being run through a psychedelia machine. "I got a few of my own fault lines running under my life," the 63-year-old Petty sings, celebrating, instead of bemoaning, his mistakes.
Petty and his Heartbreakers' latter-career output has been scattershot with bluesy sludge and blurred pieces — 2002's The Last DJ and 2010's Mojo were forgettable slogs — but here he's once again working with overt building blocks, open spaces and sing-along verve. Petty may not do battle on the Billboard charts anymore, but that doesn't mean he can't write the heck out of a song that should be a smash. Fair warning: When Tom and his cohorts play the Tampa Bay Times Forum Sept. 21, be careful with your bathroom breaks. Or maybe don't take any at all!
Hypnotic Eye isn't quite the life-affirming shimmer of Full Moon Fever, one of the purest party platters in all of rockdom. But Petty longs to be purely entertaining again, and when's the last time that happened? There's only one smoky intention behind the stoner groove of U Get Me High, and the appropriate followup cut, Burnt Out Town, is a comically dark Dylanesque strut about the apocalypse. Most everything is built with a glowing hook. "Take what you can and leave the past behind," he sings on the booming All You Can Carry, which makes for pretty good lovelorn advice.
The most telling cut, though, is the rumbling fistfight Forgotten Man. In the not-so-distant past, this once might have been slow, mopey, a lament about being shut out of the 21st century. Not here, not even close: "I feel like a four-letter word," he wails on the track, fighting back not just for the downtrodden but for himself as well. Our native son will always be feisty, but now he's fun again, too. Enjoy his newfound sunshiney state while you can.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife.