Sunday, February 5, 2012

Album Review: Pretenders – Pretenders II (1981)

I've posted this album review over at the Guardian's website, but I thought I'd post it here as well.

Accepted critical opinion says that ‘Pretenders II’ is not in the same class as its predecessor, lacking that album’s freshness and originality. Accepted critical opinion is wrong. By the time their second Long Play turned up, the Pretenders were a much tighter band (at least in terms of their sound) and able to rock ’n’ roll as readily as anyone, as implied by the band shot on the back of the album sleeve. ‘Message Of Love’ is the standout track, with James Honeyman-Scott’s punchy guitar counterpointing Chrissie Hynde’s undulating vocals, but all the other songs shine in their own way. ‘Day After Day’ is almost as perfect a piece of pop, as both band and its Ohio-born singer take off with the soaring chorus lines of ‘Way up in the sky/ Over the city and Lake Erie’. Other, rougher tracks such as ‘The Adultress’, ‘Bad Boys Get Spanked’, ‘Jealous Dogs’ and ‘Louie Louie’ come on like a more accessible form of punk, potent in force yet leaving enough space for Chrissie’s confessions, double entendres, and wry musings (‘I’m convenient and I make good tea’). Balancing these out though are the slower, quieter tunes, including a cover of Ray Davies’ ‘I Go To Sleep’, ‘Birds Of Paradise’, and ‘The English Roses’, which preface some of the Pretenders’ later work, only with more compelling musicianship. And unlike the ubiquitous ‘Brass In Pocket’ on the first album, which felt strangely out of place amongst its lesser-known companion tracks, this album’s hit single ‘Talk Of The Town’ fits seamlessly into the mix. Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon (who was fired for drug abuse) died not long after the release of this album and the Pretenders became decidedly less interesting; we’ll never know if, had they lived, ‘Pretenders II’ would have turned out to be their final burst of creativeness or a step on the road to even greater things. Over thirty years on though, it still sounds like the type of album any band going around today would be proud of.

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