I’m Not the Cat I Used to Be

August 26, 2010

Learning to Crawl

The Pretenders

1983 should not have been a good year for Chrissie Hynde:  her ex-boyfriend and Pretenders’ bassist Pete Farndon died of a heroin overdose, only a year after guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of a cocaine overdose.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Hynde had a kid with Ray Davies and then they broke up (don’t worry, she then started dated Jim Kerr of Simple Minds within the same year—oh wait, maybe that is cause to worry…).  While most bands would at least go on hiatus if not give up altogether with so much turmoil swirling about, Hynde hired some ringers and began recording again.  What she created encapsulated the joy, pain, and anger she felt and equaled the strength of the Pretenders’ previous works.

            “Middle of the Road,” is like an updated “Precious,” (the lead track of the band’s debut), a ballsy rant about age, gender, and trying to give a fuck.  This is followed by one of the finest songs the band has recorded “Back on the Chain Gang.”  A lament about her doomed relationship with Davies and the havoc the press reeked on the whole affair, it’s dynamic, nostalgic (lifting a riff from Sam Cooke), romantic, and bitter at the same time.  Most of the album works on these levels:  familiar rock hooks touched up with brazen yet observational lyrics courtesy of Hynde.  “My City Was Gone,” though somewhat hypocritical (hmmm, maybe if Hynde didn’t abandon her city and hightail it to London when the shit hit the fan, she’d have more room to talk….) could really be about any suburb taken over by Wal-Mart and strip malls.  The lame “Show Me,” and the depressing cover “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” are probably the only real misfires here.

            While the Pretenders continued to be more like Chrissie Hynde and Her Hired Help, they survived the glossy 80’s and even some ill-advised covers (yes, that is Ms. Hynde covering Donna Summer’s “State of Independence”—soooo rock n roll) they continue to chug along.  They surprised me with Viva El Amor in 1999, a complete rockin’ loud return to form but that’s the last time I had patience for them.  Like Johnny Lydon, Hynde continues to embarrass herself by ranting about how she’s more punk and legit than anyone on the planet but then goes and does something stupid, like claiming to be a vigilant animal rights activist and then saying that she has to wear leather when riding a motorcycle (if you don’t believe me, read the following Q & A:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1999/07/11/PK83091.DTL&type=printable).  I’m sure they’ll continue to do well on national tours of the House of Blues and that’s great but I’d like to remember them as the band who played “Money (That’s What I Want)” at a benefit concert and sent it out to the bands who didn’t show up because they’re were getting paid enough. 


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