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.
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, it 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.
After a pretty impressive and successful debut album, as was often the way in the fast-paced era of punk-new wave, the pressure was immediately on to come up with a second album. So many bands suffered from this and ended up with a hastily-released second album that would have been better if they had waited a while and upped the quality control a little. The Pretenders certainly suffered from this malaise, as did The Jam and The Police.
Bird Of Paradise is a nice song, with an attractive ambience and delivery, but it jus sounds so dense and muffled. The production on this album is really extremely poor. It spoiled what was potentially a good track here, I feel. Talk Of The Town was a good single. A snappy melody and 60s style guitar sound, together with a strong vocal from Chrissie Hynde. A classic early eighties new wave single. Takes me right back hearing it. Chrissie's voice is back to its seductive timbre that so characterised the first album. Instantly recognisable. She still enunciates her 'w's" as 'v''s though! Pack It Up quotes tennis bad boy (and a friend of Hynde's) John McEnroe at the beginning - "you guys are the pits of the world" and accompanied by a hard rock riff, Chrissie tells of live on the road in and out of hotels and living out of a suitcase. It has a rock appeal if you just turn it up and forget the bad sound. (By the way, this is supposed to be a remastered edition. Maybe it is simply that nothing can be done with the album, so poorly was it recorded in the first place). The final rant by Chrissie at her departed lover are quite amusing.
The English Roses, with some nice bass, and the frantic, horn-driven Louie Louie (not a cover of The Kingsmen's hit) bring it back up a bit to end on a high point, but as I have mentioned again and again throughout this review the poor sound on the album simply affects one's whole outlook on it. It just feels half-cooked to me in many ways. I felt that way in 1981 when I first bought it and time hasn't changed my opinion, unfortunately.
After the tragic loss of Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott from the band’s original line-up, Chrissie Hynde hired some more musicians and somehow got herself together and, remarkably, came up with this impressive album. Personally, I find it much superior to the muffled, patchy Pretenders II.
Thumbelina is a quirky, upbeat rhythmic rockabilly-zydeco beat song that appears to be written for Chrissie Hynde’s daughter in places, but there are darker parts to it as well, as is often the case with Pretenders songs, a cynicism about the human condition is never far from the surface.
The Atlantic soul classic Thin Line Between Love And Hate is covered impressively. Hynde’s voice is excellent on this one. I Hurt You is a heavy chugger with a muscular riff. 2000 Miles has been somewhat hijacked as a Christmas song, due to its mentions of the festive day, so, for that reason I never play it outside of that time of year. Chrissie Hynde actually wrote it after the loss of Honeyman-Scott. You know, I think I prefer this album and the next one, Get Close, to the more critically-acclaimed first two. They are both excellent albums and sound much better too.
Light Of The Town is a mid-paced, slow riffy number with more genuine drums and a nice laid-back but solid feel to it. Dance! sees the first of the funky tracks that would characterise this album. It is a real departure from the band’s trademark new-wavey sound. To be honest, it is refreshing to hear a change in their sound. I love this track. There is some great guitar on it too. Tradition Of Love is another slow burner, with some distinct innovative Eastern tones to its vocal inflections, while Don't Get Me Wrong was a big hit single. It is lively, melodic and catchy.
A thing that hits you about this album is just how much better the sound quality is compared to, say, the muffled mess that was Pretenders II. It really is a most underrated album.
After their first four albums, The Pretenders hung around for many years, releasing several Pretenders-by-numbers albums that I paid no attention to. This one, from 2008, was marketed along with their Greatest Hits album as a double CD and actually, it isn't at all bad. Without Martin Chambers on drums for the first time (he returned for the next one), Chrissie Hynde mined her bluesy seams, mixed it with bits of loose, lively rockabilly, melodic country rock and Americana and came up with a short (thirty six minutes) album that, although it doesn't particularly stick in the mind, individual track-wise, is a perfectly enjoyable listen. I stuck it on recently several times in a row, so there you go. It is probably the rootsiest offering in her canon and Chrissie wears her influences boldly on her leather sleeve.
Standing In the Doorway (2021)
This is a truly lovely album from Chrissie Hynde (credited as such), as she covers nine Bob Dylan tracks with mainly her acoustic guitar, a bit of subtle percussion here snd there and her evocative voice. Chrissie has chosen all slow, thoughtful and mainly romantic songs on the whole and they all, without fail, would seem tailor-made for her. Don’t expect any Pretenders-style rock, however. This is a beautifully peaceful affair.
The highlights are a beautiful rendition of one of my all-time favourites in Love Minus Zero-No Limits; an absolutely top-notch rendering of Blind Willie McTell that, for me, outdoes Dylan’s version; Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight; Sweetheart Like You and the always moving Every Grain Of Sand.
All the tracks are good, to be honest. I know a lot of people see albums of Dylan covers as supposedly sacrilegious, but not me - I find that often other artists bring out the best in the songs and Chrissie Hynde certainly does here. She gives what is clearly a labour of love a whole lot of it. Top effort.
|Bob Dylan||The Jam||The Kinks|