After releasing a relatively return-to-form album with 1999’s Viva El Amor, the Pretenders and lead singer Chrissie Hynde spent some time doing headlining tours but also supporting Neil Young. A few PETA-related scuffles also landed Hynde in the spotlight and slammer for one evening, but Hynde was no worse for wear. Between that album and this new one, though, her true mood seems to have come to the fore resulting from what appears to be a relationship gone sour. Recorded rather quickly and described by Hynde as “easy listening”, it might give the wrong impression to fans. Some opening slots recently for the Rolling Stones put those fears to rest. The mix of fast paced rockers with more reflective reggae and dub-inspired tracks make this eighth offering one of the group’s better albums.
Starting off with the brief and abruptly cut “Lie To Me”, the song has a melodic rock beginning before moving on to a pulsating drums and guitar heavy chorus. “I’m not in my head yet I don’t believe you”, Hynde sings before repeating the song’s main hook. There is also a rather primal feeling to the track in the vein of main of the “The” bands currently soaking up sales. Guitarist Adam Seymour and original drummer Martin Chambers put their sonic fingerprints over most of the song. “Time” is more in line with a majority of the songs, slow and soulful reggae laced narratives. Part of the reason is producer Kevin Bacon’s (Finley Quaye, Ziggy Marley) influence, but Hynde isn’t exactly foreign to reggae given her Sonny and Cher cover with UB40. The song also has a certain dance or techno feeling to it.
A lot of the album has positive images or thoughts, particularly on the groove-riddled “You Know Who Your Friends Are”, a pop melody that gives way to Hynde’s lovable vocal abilities. It’s close to being the album’s highlight but definitely is singles material. The electronica layers on “Complex Person” are also appealing, but the lyrics are the strong point. “I’m a messed up, f—ked up, singer of a song,” she sings before talking about giving construction workers something to shout about. The harmonies don’t add much though. “Fools Must Die” is another rock-oriented track that is simple and harks back to material from 1986’s Get Close album. It also ends rather quickly after two and a half minutes. The groove is also quite present on the sultry and sexy blues-tinged “Kinda Nice, I Like It”. Andy Hobson’s bass line carries the song while Hynde competes with her delayed harmony vocals.
Unlike some of the group’s previous records, there is a great deal of consistency on the record in terms of repeatable listens. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” is a slow and melodic reggae pop track that thankfully doesn’t change pace or tempo. “I wasn’t this shook in the LA earthquake / How much can one heart break”, Hynde asks in a style that Sheryl Crow should seriously consider. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Hynde’s love of Brit popsters Pulp and its lead singer Jarvis Cocker. Although Cocker has co-written the last track on the album, it’s quite obvious Pulp’s His N Hers was an influence on “I Should Of”. Despite the grammatical solecism, the song has the same pomp and orchestrated structure that Pulp is famous for, even down to Hynde giving the lyrics more of a breathy tone during the homestretch. It’s probably the highlight of the album.
The album’s low point is the mediocre “Clean Up Woman”. Coming across like filler at best, it plods along in a reggae style that is a bit of a mess like that song says. Hynde also doesn’t give much lyrically here as she talks about the personal baggage found in couples and relationships. Thankfully the soul she exposes on “The Losing” atones for the previous mistake. Backing vocals by Priscilla Jones gives it another layer but the song is solid on its own. Although it tends to fade out a bit too long, it’s an enjoyable fade. “Saving Grace” returns to songs like “Don’t Get Me Wrong” in terms of style but is a tad mellower. Ending with the odd cover of All Seeing 1’s “Walk Like a Panther” (originally done by Jarvis Cocker), the track is a bit erratic. If this is what Hynde and the Pretenders plan on doing for future projects, they are on a very enjoyable path indeed.
// Notes from the Road
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