Review: The Pretenders Inject Emotion Into ‘Relentless’

4 out of 5 stars

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Chrissie Hynde understands going through a metamorphosis or maybe pre-senile dementia. That’s made clear on “Losing My Sense of Taste,” as she sings I don’t even care about rock and roll / All my old favorites seem tired and old. It’s the reflectively rocking opening track of the first Pretenders album since 2020.

The cover painting shows a young child with an eye patch and oversized boxing gloves looking worse for wear. The illustration could reflect someone who, like Hynde, has been through the wringer and is still fighting.

This Pretenders lineup, now whittled down to Hynde and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist James Walbourne (they co-write and play on every track) is more ballad-oriented than many might presume. Still, the tender yet tough tunes are instantly identifiable as emerging from the iconic band. Hynde’s voice, at 71, is just a shade weaker than in her prime, but the songs are strong, the lyrics as strident as you’d expect, and Walbourne’s playing remains professional without sliding into slick. 

Entries such as “Vainglorious” rock out, as Hynde sings Without a body, just a word / You’re never seen but man you’re heard with the snotty attitude of the old days. Others like “A Love” and “Let the Sun Come In” find the edgy melodicism that separated Hynde from the other punks and rock frontwomen over the past four decades. When she digs into the rugged, guitar-centric “Domestic Silence,” singing about spousal abuse, or the slow grinding “Just Let It Go,” where Walbourne coaxes out a searing solo, none can match her vocal muscle. 

Even on slower material, like the teary closing six-minute ballad “I Think About You Daily” featuring stressed, experimental strings arranged by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Hynde injects so much riveting emotion that few will be disappointed.

The frontwoman remains a revered rock and roll veteran, one whose integrity has never been questioned, and, as the appropriately titled Relentless implies, she’s not going to stop anytime soon.    

Photo by Ki Price / Big Hassle Media

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