Wednesday, 6 June 2018
The Pretenders - The Pretenders (1980)
Released January 1980
Recorded at Wessex Studios, London
The Pretenders were late arrivals on the "punk" scene, and were far more of a "new wave" band, with guitarists and a drummer who had been around a bit, one with a bit of a rockabilly image and a hard as nails female singer who had also been around the block a bit, so to speak. Ex-rock journalist Chrissie Hynde added her unique, rather odd, not particularly strong voice to a 60s-influenced rock/new wave sound to make them a very recognisable band and one that successfully cross-over into the mainstream charts and daytime radio air-play. Hynde also had a strange habit of enunciating her "w's" and "v's" (like "world as "vurld" on "Precious"). She also does it on "your place in this vurld" on the next album's "Talk Of The Town". Never quite understood why, she is from Akron, Ohio, not Germany, India or Pakistan.
The album's opener, the frantic, punky riff-driven "Precious" is something that is pretty hard to categorise, to be honest. Hynde mumbles out some of her lyrics, blathering on about "shitting bricks" before that quite unique guitar sound breaks back in. Her vocals are even more incomprehensible on the similarly frenetic and infuriatingly catchy "The Wait". If anyone can tell me what the song is all about I would love to know. Either way it has a great, infectious sound to it with some excellent drums from Martin Chambers. "The Phone Call" has a bit of a Siouxsie & The Banshees riff sound about it throughout, and the drums too, thinking about it. "Up The Neck" has a laid back, middle ground rock sound and a strong guitar riff mid-song. Again, that "post punk" guitar riff style is used quite a lot. "Space Invaders" is a chugging, slightly unnecessary instrumental tapping in to the contemporary trend for playing the titular video game in pubs complete with noises from that game at the end.
There are four hit singles on here - the cover of The Kinks' singalong 60s number, "Stop Your Sobbing"; the tuneful Duane Eddy guitar-influenced "Kid"; the number one and ever-so-slightly irritating "Brass In Pocket" and the fast, rocky "Tattooed Love Boys". All these were worthy hits and are memorable within the context of this album, as indeed is "Private Life", six minutes of reggae-influenced moaning at her lover from Hynde. It was later covered, memorably, by Grace Jones with a "proper" reggae backing by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and this version met with Hynde's enthusiastic approval. She felt it far bettered her original saying that it was how she originally wanted it to sound.
"Lovers Of Today" is a lengthy, beautiful new wave rock ballad with Hynde's best vocal from the album. "Mystery Achievement" is another five minute track with a seductive guitar/drum intro and another convincing vocal. Again, t has that new wave rock ballad style typical of the era. Funny how, after the supposed punk ethos of nothing over a frantic two and a half minutes long, bands went back to recording five and six minute mid-paced rocky workouts in no time at all. Nice bass, guitar and drum instrumental part in the middle that would have been unheard of at punk's height three years earlier.
An impressive debut from a band who would, however, go on to produce several competent, but rarely truly outstanding albums. It never actually got any better than this in terms of overall album quality.