Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pretenders II (1981)

I've spent so much time thinking of this as a bad album that I was surprised when I returned to it recently and found more than I expected to like. This is overall a good example, maybe the best, of the "sophomore slump" problem that dogs many rock artists. Symptoms include the tired Roman numeral in the title, songs that sound dangerously close to retreads from the first album, and perhaps most discouraging the abject trivialization of themes that made the debut interesting. For example, the album opens on "The Adultress," a gleeful embrace of an ethos or orientation Chrissie Hynde seemed explicitly to be rejecting before. And the next one, "Bad Boys Get Spanked," is more indication of the direction of cheesy exploitation in which it gets stuck. If you never liked Hynde or the Pretenders project as it developed from here—I've known a few people of this persuasion, some quite adamantly about it—there's surely little here. Perhaps only "Talk of the Town," a good single that came a few minutes late for the first album (which even the naysayers generally do not try to deny). It's true there aren't many new ideas here. Pretenders II often sounds uninspired or overly familiar from track to track. On the other hand, there is at least one notable Hynde trademark that finds its origins here, in "I Go to Sleep." These Hynde torchers, which start approximately here, are songs and productions designed to highlight the soaring, aching, nakedly emotional strengths of her voice, which steps out leaving the rock band behind for orchestral touches. By the time she gets to the chorus it is swooningly gorgeous; in live shows this is where the arm is raised and swayed slowly back and forth. She usually found room for one or two of them on most albums from then on—she even had a hit with one, "I'll Stand by You" (#16 in September 1994). Everything else I have to say about the album would almost certainly be damning with faint praise—good band, good band, the calamity not yet upon them. But given the subsequent dimensions of Hynde's ambition, I'm not sure they ever had a shot at making a lasting impact as a band, even if most of them had survived. This one's for fans only.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up. Makes me want to hear the first two back to back again. I loved this one when I pulled it out for awhile in the '90s. Good point ab her torchers. I have this solo live version of "Kid"-- after her own kid was all grown up, btw--that is a stone mama killer.