It’s hard not to imagine Alone as a self-reverential nod at Chrissie Hynde’s solo debut album Stockholm, released in mid-2014. A single cymbal clang opens the Pretenders tenth studio album, Alone, and perfectly sets up the solo confidence of Hynde as the band instead, and her renewed collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and the Arcs. Auerbach’s presence is strong, but welcome and his role as producer and collaborator focuses on bringing Hynde’s vocals to the front while providing impassioned and qualifying backing music for her lyrics. Hynde explores isolation and loneliness in Alone but it’s rebellious and rooted in a career forged with carelessness and stern attitude (more nods to Stockholm?). The title fits so well because it clearly overlooks the collaboration with Auerbach, and quietly personifies Hynde’s career as the Pretenders.
The album is moodily quiet throughout every track, and louder songs like “Gotta Wait” blend into the shuffle of “One More Day” nicely. In the first half of the album, Hynde takes a stand against anyone that challenges her (“Alone Song”) before slowly realizing the effects of agonizing about changes or lost loves (“I Hate Myself”). The clanging cymbal that starts up “Alone Song” reverts to bluesy guitar and merciless vocals that equally speak to doing what you (thought it’s her she’s singing about) want, how you want, and whenever you want. It moves briskly while Hynde’s lyrics meander against anyone telling you (still her) what to do or not do. “What are you gonna do about it, nobody tells me I can’t … no one to say you’re doing it wrong, I’m at my best when I’m doing it alone (wrong?) …”
Opening strong and defiant, Alone quickly turns to lament in “Roadie Man” and explores the impact of loneliness throughout songs like “Gotta Wait” and “Never Be Together”, before looking for luck in “Let’s Get Lost”. The album is dreamy and uncompromising on the effects of being alone, moving from solitude and realizations to anger and loathing throughout the tracks. The starkest shift on the continuously quiet album emerges from the lost expectations of “Be the Man That You Are” forms into a shuffling landscape on “One More Day”, and then self-destruction in “I Hate Myself” and “Death Is Not Enough”.
The final song is touted as a bonus track on the physical case, but unidentified as such in digital outlets, “Holy Commotion”, breaks completely with the quiet music of the album by loudly including synths on top of moody guitar and hard hitting drums. Hynde wants to free the listener away from the loneliness of what she just explored, hoping to dance all night and embrace love and humanity. The song drifts away with a long fade-out, but not before Hynde makes it clear she is still here, rocking and strong.
Auerbach’s presence can be felt minimally throughout Alone, backing up Hynde’s lyrics well. On certain tracks, he takes a larger presence, though, and the style of the Black Keys and the Arcs shines nearly blindingly. You will hear Auerbach in the guitar solo of “Gotta Wait”, the rhythm of “Never Be Together”, and the lead guitar in “Chord Lord”. In the latter track, Hynde’s vocals are forced up in volume over the music for the first and only time on Alone, and disappear with another guitar solo. These effects only add to the themes present in the album, as Hynde seems willing to compete and then disperse with the musical effects brought on as the songs progress. The following “Blue Eyed Sky” track highlights a quiet guitar under synths and subdued drums, revealing the fragility hidden from the outset and projected by Auerbach’s stylistic presence.
Alone personifies Chrissie Hynde’s status as a successful musician over many decades as the Pretenders with ease, but it additionally monitors the uneasiness that comes with a reality of being alone across the album. In truth, Hynde is not alone on this album, she’s performing with a noted influential musician in Dan Auerbach, and the collaboration belies the album altogether. The songs throughout Alone may rebel with their quiet solitude and reflection, but that’s a quality worth exploring when solo albums intervene and collaborators return.