The Pretenders

BMG, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When I first fell hard for rock and roll in my teens, the idea of someone over 40 putting out a credible rock album seemed ludicrous. It wasn’t possible. No one that age could possibly have the fire or swagger or sheer bad-assedness the task requires.

Oh, the folly of youth. My naive assumption has of course been proven wrong any number of times in the intervening years, but as was the case in 1980, Chrissie Hynde still manages to stand out from the crowd, in that she is that rare woman making a powerful, one hundred percent credible rock and roll album around the time her peers are starting to collect Social Security.

No, the only real question about this smart, punchy, snarky, typically charismatic outing from Chrissie Hynde is whether it’s truly a Pretenders album. For much of the last 30 years, co-founder/frontwoman Hynde has at least sustained the thread of the original lineup by including co-founder/drummer Martin Chambers in the proceedings. He’s nowhere to be found here and the sound definitely diverges from classic Pretenders; in fact, it often sounds like Chrissie Hynde fronting the Black Keys, unsurprising given that Keys frontman Dan Auerbach produced, co-wrote two songs and played guitar on Alone. But—and one suspects this may have been the thought process Hynde went through herself—does it really matter anymore? The Pretenders and Hynde are so identified with one another at this point that it’s little more than semantics.

Bottom line, this is as strong a set as Hynde has turned out under the Pretenders banner in some time. The opening title track is a rumbly, snappy rocker with a bit of retro flavor to it; even when Hynde speak-sings half the lyrics, the feel is more barroom beat poet than rap, and the whole thing is sassy as hell (“I like being alone / Yeah, what are you going to do about it?”), as a Pretenders song should be. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The laid-back road song “Roadie Man” features a warbly guitar part and vintage Hammond running through it, with Hynde languid, playful and infinitely sexy at the mic. Then “Gotta Wait” turns up the volume again with big trashy drums and menacing guitar; it’s the psychedelic garage blues band feel the Black Keys built their name on, and it seems to suit Hynde just fine. The lilting “Never Be Together” uncovers still more BK-isms, with an airy ’80s rock sound masking hints of funk deep in the arrangement.

Hynde and Auerbach’s influences converge on the shimmering, lovely ballad “Let’s Get Lost,” whose little tambourine hits over the opening bars are as Motown as it gets. (Not to mention the chorus, where Hynde unspools a falsetto that feels like the personification of post-coital bliss.)

They dial up the garage-y drums and dirty guitar again for “Chord Lord,” before the proceedings take a bit of a left turn with the acoustic-and-bells psych-folk of “Blue-Eyed Sky.” “The Man You Are” offers an airy, percussive “I don’t expect flowers / I don’t expect rings” ballad about keeping it real, and then “One More Day” arrives in full-on bossa nova mode, complete with accordion. It’s a bit of a puzzler at first, but evolves as resonant organ, urgent vocals and snaky guitars gradually transform it into something considerably more intense.

“I Hate Myself” is as dark and twisted as the title would suggest, with an echoey Motown rhythm track and gospel organ accents supporting Hynde as she delivers a late-night confessional monologue of self-loathing. Nominal closer “Death Is Not Enough” again has kind of a Berry Gordy shimmer to it, augmented in the second half by little chamber pop touches (harpsichord, anyone?) that are pure Auerbach. Bonus track “Holy Commotion” feels like it could be a leftover from Stockholm that Auerbach had some fun rearranging, a keyboard-heavy, rather experimental number with little flares of lo-fi guitar and an r&b rhythm section.

In the end, despite all of the experimentation and sometimes jolting style shifts, everything here ends up feeling like it’s just as it should be. Which is to say that Chrissie Hynde is making whatever music she wants to, under whatever stage name she wants to, and we should all just be grateful she’s still in the game. Alone isn’t your father’s Pretenders album, but offers evidence aplenty that Chrissie Hynde remains one of the most vital, compelling, and charismatic artists of her time.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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