The Pretenders

Sire, 1980

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


You gotta hand it to ‘em. The Pretenders waste zero time getting down and dirty on their debut album. The roaring first track “Precious” sets the tone for all that is yet to come. Chrissie Hynde and Co. clearly know what they’re doing, and mean to take the world by storm. If you ever come across a Greatest Albums Of All Time list, this is sure to be there. Their third album, Learning To Crawl, came the closest to matching this distinction, pleasing listeners and critics alike with chart hits, but people always point to this first one as the very best. I, however, beg to differ.

The second cut “The Phone Call” keeps up the intensity, but I’ll be damned if I can understand a word Hynde is singing/saying. No matter, it’s all about guitar bombast here, so either hold on tight or slam dance to your heart’s content. The choice is that simple, though if you’re a diehard fan, you’ll undoubtedly do the latter. The momentum is almost lost on “Up The Neck,” though it too has its moments to rock out. Hynde’s sneering personality and deadpan delivery are in top form here and save the track from ending up as forgettable filler (like the never-ending, vocally challenging ballad “Lovers Of Today”).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I gotta admit, I’ve been something of a passing fan of the Pretenders, only picking up their first four albums. After Get Close in 1986, it all started sounding the same. That’s always been the dilemma of guitar-based rock; there’s only so much you can do. The fans won’t allow for any deviation from “the formula,” so don’t even try to be experimental or God forbid, bring electronic sounds or orchestral arrangements into the mix. So soldier on in the same straightforward direction they did, with increasingly mediocre results. It certainly didn’t help matters losing half the band to drug overdoses. Lineup changes are a risky proposition indeed, just ask Blondie.

Elsewhere on The Pretenders, we have everything from rattle-shaking, manically good time on “Tattooed Love Boys” and the mostly instrumental, time-wasting interlude of “Space Invaders,” before getting on more familiar territory for “The Wait,” which would’ve made a great single, heavy breathing from Chrissie included. As for those radio-friendly hits, you’ll remember with fondness the Kinks cover “Stop Your Sobbing” and the number that grows-on-you, “Brass In Pocket.” If, like me, you’re waiting for the Pretenders to REALLY screw up and include a song that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you’ll likely call “Private Life” on the carpet. The slow, meandering reggae-ish melody will make you immediately think of the Police. But what’s up with those ridiculous backing vocals on the chorus? Anyhow, it’s a stupid song that drags on far too long. I can just see people now, heading for the exits during their concert for a bathroom break. At least they make up some ground on the terrific thumper of a closing tune “Mystery Achievement.”

Over the years, I’ve been able to understand why this album is so beloved. I think the younger you are when you first hear it, you might not get it. But give it some time and air to breathe. You will hear something different every time you give it a spin. That’s what the best rock ‘n’ roll should be: timeless.

Rating: B

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire, and is used for informational purposes only.