Learning To Crawl

The Pretenders

Sire Records, 1983


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review that first appeared in On The Town magazine 5/28/96]

So what do you do when, three years down the road from your massively successful debut album, half your band OD's at the same time you're becoming a single mother? If you're a singer-songwriter with the guts and talent of Chrissie Hynde, you go out and author the best album of your career.

The Pretenders' first two albums had already had an almost revolutionary impact on the early '80s music scene, grafting of the furious energy of late '70s punk and new wave onto the cerebral guitar-rock of bands like the Kinks and projecting it through the sensuous tough-girl persona of bandleader Hynde. Then disaster struck: first bassist Pete Farndon was booted from the band when he became too strung out too perform; then guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, co-architect with Hynde of the band's to-then unique sound, died suddenly from a drug overdose. Within a year, Farndon was dead as well. Meanwhile, Hynde had conceived a child with Kinks leader Ray Davies and gave birth in the midst of the chaos.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first sign that these setbacks were less than permanent ones for the Pretenders came with the release in early 1983 of a single containing two songs which would eventually appear on Learning To Crawl: "Back on the Chain Gang" and "My City Was Gone." These two songs, more melodic than most earlier Pretenders output and tinged with an aching sense of loss, were nonetheless also marked by a gritty determination to carry on that established Hynde's public persona as much more than just a stage front, while also solidifying her reputation as a singer-songwriter of the first order.

The album which followed launches strongly with "Middle Of The Road," a driving rocker whose looping central hook grabs on tight. It's immediately apparent Hynde's lyrics have lost nothing of their pointed strength, and the other remaining original Pretender, drummer Martin Chambers, pounds his way through like a man on fire. More hard-edged songs follow -- chiefly the icepick-between-the-ribs kiss-off "Time the Avenger," the droll rave-up "Watching The Clothes," and the dark, tempestuous "I Hurt You" -- but the news was the public blooming of Hynde's softer side. On songs like "Back On The Chain Gang," "Thumbelina" and the luminous "Show Me," Hynde lifts quieter emotions from her own troubled heart and makes them universal, revealing a vulnerability that rounds out her aforementioned persona without weakening it in the least.

Learning To Crawl is a testament to resiliency, and arguably the best album of what remains, more than two decades years after the rubble of the band's early catastrophes settled, a career-in-progress for Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders.

Rating: A

User Rating: B+



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