Hate For Sale

The Pretenders

BMG, 2020


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, frontwoman, chief songwriter and sole constant Chrissie Hynde acknowledged that “the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years.” The untimely deaths of founding members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in 1982-3 cast a long shadow over the band that’s only been accentuated over the years by Hynde’s tendency to shuffle its lineup on a regular basis, and even issue albums under the Pretenders moniker using hired crews of session musicians (e.g. 1990’s Packed! and 2016’s Alone).

As a result, the first task for any Pretenders fan picking up a new album by the group is to take a breath and check to see who’s in and who’s out this time around. The credits on Hate For Sale offer welcome good news, then, as Hynde is joined by three lengthy-tenured veterans of the band in guitarist James Walbourne, bassist Nick Wilkinson, and founding drummer Martin Chambers. Where Alone felt more like a Hynde solo album, Hate For Sale embraces with gusto that familiar Pretenders brand of New Wave-and-punk-inspired melodic rock.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The kickoff title track false-starts once—a playfully punky flourish—before diving into a surging, thrashing rocker that proves out of the gate that Hynde has lost none of the fire and steel that has always made her one of the most compelling performers in rock. The acid lyric deconstructs an especially loathsome narcissist as Chambers pushes the tempo and Walbourne—credited as co-writer with Hynde on every track here—and Wilkinson light up the boards with furious energy, with Hynde wailing on harmonica between verses. Second track and lead single “The Buzz” takes a gentler approach, featuring the luminous guitars and supple bounce of classic Pretenders numbers like “Brass In Pocket” and “Talk Of The Town,” supporting a lyric about an addictive, manipulative relationship.

From there you get a series of “looks” familiar to any longtime Pretenders fan: the dark, reggae-tinged “Lightning Man!”; the tart, thundering garage-rocker “Turf Accountant Daddy”; the shimmering Motown-tinged ballad “You Can’t Hurt A Fool,” and yearning melodic rocker “Maybe Love Is In NYC.” Meanwhile the stabbing pre-chorus chords of the hard-and-heavy “I Didn’t When To Stop” carry echoes of “Mystery Achievement” from 40 years before, culminating in a characteristically tight-but-raging guitar-harmonica solo.

Not that Hynde and company don’t stretch out a bit as well. “Junkie Walk” offers a fresh take, a simultaneously sing-songy and punky bit of dark-slam-poetry-to-a-slowed-down-Bo-Diddley-beat frothiness. “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely” fuel-injects a similar beat with brio and handclaps as Hynde confesses that even bad relationships can leave you full of longing when they’re over. “Crying In Public” closes things out with what’s essentially a Hynde solo track, a pretty if rather stilted piano ballad with strings filling out its spare arrangement.

Final track aside, though, Hate For Sale sounds and feels like a Pretenders album, with all the verbal ferocity and muscular musicality that implies. Up front, Hynde is as dynamic as ever, her vocals swerving, diving, swelling and crooning, shaping her voice serve the song like the master she is. It doesn’t feel right to call Hate For Sale a return to form, implying recovery from a stumble that’s never happened. Rather, it feels like a revisitation of a classic sound that puts writers of a certain age back in their 18-year-old skin, bobbing our heads to an aggressive, exhilarating new take on rock and roll.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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