The Pretenders Are Selling Hate, Buy It

Pretenders | Hate For Sale | (BMG)
4 out of 5 stars

Anyone who thought any album with Pretenders founder, songwriter, frontwoman and only consistent member Chrissie Hynde’s name on it would sound like the band needed to reassess that after 2019’s fascinating — if somewhat alienating — solo experimental jazz of Valve Bone Woe

Those who couldn’t warm up to that side trip will be thrilled to learn that Hynde is back in full-throttle, rockstar form for the first Pretenders album since 2016’s Dan Auerbach assisted Alone. To sweeten the pot, original drummer Martin Chambers is also on board. Chambers injects his propulsive personality, especially in the opening title track — a tough, chugging rocker that could have come from the band’s fertile ’80s heyday. Hynde hasn’t lost a step either, vocally or in her songwriting, the latter with UK co-writer/guitarist James Walbourne. 

There are plenty of throwbacks to earlier Pretenders material. The reggae beat of “Lightning Man” references the similar approach of “Private Life,” “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” sounds like an update of “Cuban Slide,” and first single “The Buzz” is so close to “Kid” that she would sue if she hadn’t originally written it. 

Little of this matters because these songs have the crackling energy and throbbing passion of the finest Pretenders music. If Hynde wasn’t already a great rock singer, she could be a convincing R&B vocalist, at least from her performance of the retro-styled ballad “You Can’t Hurt a Fool,” as solid a soul song as she has penned and arguably one of her finest, most heartfelt compositions. 

As for rockers, it’s hard to beat the oddly named “Turf Accountant Daddy” with Chambers’ punchy attack driving one of this set’s toughest selections, one that finds Hynde’s trademarked snarl in fine form as she spits out, “Hey baby, wanna dance? C’mere!” And when she sneers “every junkie has to die” on “Junkie Walk,” there is no doubt Hynde is a force of nature who remains, even pushing 70, as commanding as ever. 

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