Quality return from icon of rock-chick chic
The thing about real class is that it isn’t ostentatious: it just glows there till you notice it, confident that, sooner or later, you will. And if you don’t it’s your loss. The Pretenders’ first since 1999’s Viva El Amour is an album that, on first listen, glides by doing nothing wrong. Second time around, you realise that, more accurately, it’s doing everything right, and you’re spellbound.
But I’m making it sound polished and ‘tasteful’. That’d be crap: it’s got it going on. Chrissie Hynde knows what she’s doing after 20-odd years at the top. After a while as world’s best band, then a spell of being not quite sure how to ‘mature’, The Pretenders are now ‘just’ a device for Hynde to keep writing and singing songs, which is all we need, and we need it bad. She was driving new rock and no-cock revolutions back when it cost you something. Perhaps if that voice was less distinctive, she’d be namechecked more often, credited for more copyists. But few are dumb enough to try to ape her.
So it’s the still-swoonsome, breathy, resonant voice which raises the bar on “Time” and “You Know Who Your Friends Are”. Here, rhythms hint at slow funk and reggae, but on “Kinda Nice, I Like It” and “I Should Of” we’re reminded of the early, rocking Pretenders. The latter’s a string-soaked stormer, a reflection of love akin to “Talk Of The Town”, and including the lines: “When we made love, sometimes it was great/But just once or twice, I would’ve called it second rate.” Imagine the 88 front covers any new gal who came up with that today would garner. Miaow.
The cover of All Seeing I’s “Walk Like A Panther” is as feline as you’d hope, and the ferocious fuck-you opener, “Lie To Me”, cut off in its prime, is wicked. The showstopper, however, is “The Losing”, an Eddie & Ernie-meet-Tindersticks tearjerker of flawlessly-drawn pathos and soul.
The Pretenders remain the real thing. Sheer class, but never afraid to get its heart dirty.