SEEMINGLY UNSURE as to where they fit in as they negotiate a fifth decade at the coalface, Chrissie Hynde has kept the Pretenders quietly chugging along of late, while exploring new directions – jazz-tinged covers; Bob Dylan covers – on a solo career that, more than anything, bought her time.
For what is only the twelfth Pretenders album, Hynde has dispensed with the production services of 2020’s Hate For Sale helmsman Stephen Street in favour of David Wrench, the Grammy-nominated Welshman, who brings a broad but playful palette. On-off drummer Martin Chambers is off again but, as on Hate For Sale, her songwriting partner is James Walbourne, current lead guitarist and Richard Thompson’s son-in-law. For all its boundary pushing,
Relentless accepts that since Hynde’s voice is instantly recognisable whether she’s hollering or crooning, it defines the Pretenders: she’s a lifer, unable to escape, even if she wanted to. Endless personnel shuffles may bring renewal, but Hynde has always been a keen student of her own history. Intermittently self-referential, there’s a Kid-like twang to A Love; while The Copa is a ballad in the I Go To Sleep tradition; there’s both Last Of The Independents-style slickness on Look Away and Break Up The Concrete’s rootsiness on Just Let It Go.
Instinctively, Hynde has always been a rocker, even when her walk hasn’t wholly vindicated her talk. When she rocks on this aptly titled, almighty whoosh of fresh air, she’s heavier and denser than ever. The in-your-face opener Losing My Sense Of Taste thunders along like No Code-era Pearl Jam, but Hynde grinds her way through the mischief-drenched scuzzfest Merry Widow – “I’m a divorcee, but I feel like a widow, a merry, merry widow…” – and Vainglorious is as magnificently one-riff as peak ZZ Top. Meanwhile, Promise Of Love begins with a slow piano motif as Hynde muses upon past paramours, before she cranks up the tension and volume until it becomes the sort of ballad that demands cathedral organs and clattering cymbals.
Relentless is not, though, one-paced, and Hynde has always blossomed when she has something to prove; here it’s finding a place for the Pretenders in 2023. Flexing her songwriting muscles, the percussive Your House Is On Fire has the gall to begin like a madrigal, but from its first moments Let The Sun Come In almost breaks into – of all things – Shiny Happy People. There’s real new ground broken when Jonny Greenwood pops up to add a swirling string arrangement to the graceful closer I Think About You Daily, where Hynde ditches her swagger to sound more vulnerable than she has in years as she whispers, “I never could take good advice”. Surely Relentless is how Chrissie Hynde always wanted the Pretenders to sound.
Relentless is out September 15 on Parolophone.
Picture: Ki Price