CD Review: Pretenders – Break Up The Concrete (Shangri-La)

While I am always excited by a prospect of a new Pretenders album as the first few back in the early ’80’s impacted me so heavily (yes, I am a James Honeyman-Scott fan!), I don’t have any false expecdtations that any new Pretenders’ release is going to have the same fire and power of the band’s debut. I mean, leader Chrissie Hynde is still a wonderful songwriter and a musical force to be reckoned with but I have been disappointed too many times by bands and artists whom I was sure had the goods to keep deliver one last great album only to come up with a stinker. Not that Hynde has ever released a pure stinker, but for my money nothing else by the band quite measures up to those first two discs. Not to mention she is the only original Pretender on this album, defiantly soldiering on with the name despite most of the last few Pretenders albums being defacto solo efforts with backing bands save original drummer Martin Farnsworth on occasion. So, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your outlook, I was not too disappointed with this album’s tepidness.

Though Hynde remains in great, though somewhat ragged voice, this album more closely resembles a second-rate Lucinda Williams effort than a true Pretenders’ disc. For one thing, Hynde and backing band refuse to rock out. Except for the first song and maybe one or two more, the feel being laid down is not one of rebellious rock but of rootsy roll. Nothing wrong with that, but not what your mind conjures up when the Pretenders’ name is brought up and even the band’s lesser albums still had a rock edge while this one does not. Country touches abound, and there is a bit of rootsy raunch which is appealing in spots, but the songs are forgettable and by the end of the album enough wearniness sets in (in the listener’s ear and in Hynde’s voice) that you wonder why Hynde bothered if she really wasn’t that into it. I am not of the belief an artist has to keep with the same sound and cannot evolve, but what I get from Hynde’s best music is a magnificent defiance and rebellion and it seems to be missing on this disc.

Call it a Hynde solo album and maybe I wouldn’t mind at all, but you bring the Pretenders’ legacy into it and you’re going to have to craft something fitting the name. This, unfortunately, is not it though some fans may find the more mature music fitting the more mature Hynde. Me, I was definitely hoping it would rock out a bit more. I don’t know whether this is a negative review or not, but if I had an extra fifteen bucks to spend on a Pretenders’ album, I wouldn’t get this one first.