Usually regarded as a cheerful exercise in anarchic posturing, The Pretenders’ sparkling debut is nonetheless one of the key albums of the Eighties. Caught between the fiery and the pristine, Chrissie Hynde’s festering resentment for the world’s establishment took on a new meaning as the decade wore on. More than that, Hynde was a sole female voice screaming in a crowd of muscular, malevolent men. “Some will say ‘Because we weren’t encouraged!’”Hynde declared in 2019. “But that was the whole point of being in a band, that you weren’t encouraged, so you were like ‘F*** it, I’m doing it!’”
Laced in ironic gesture, Hynde’s gut-punch lyrics, shimmering guitar hooks, and desperate passion were comparable only to The Smiths. The comparison, if initially superfluous, has borne greater meaning over the years: Hynde, who invited guitarists Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke to decorate her songs over the years, recorded Morrissey’s forlorn “Everyday Is Like Sunday” in the Nineties, while the erudite Smiths front-man – usually loathe to return musical gestures – released a sparky version of The Pretenders’ “Back On The Chain Gang” in 2017.
Hate For Sale – Hynde’s greatest work, and the type of album her most hardened imitator wishes they made – furthers the analogy, by inviting producer Stephen Street (The Queen Is Dead, Strangeways Here We Come) to man the controls. Much has changed for the band since they released their shimmering debut. Drummer Martin Chambers -after Hynde, a band mainstay -is here, but those steadfast guitars are James Walbourne’s doing. Walbourne, co-writer and musical director, finds himself in a position once earmarked by James Honeyman-Scott. Eulogized on the festive “2000 Miles” in 1983, Honeyman-Scott’s shadow holds a firm position over the band; rather than admit defeat, Walbourne channels the elusive figure on the biting, brisk title track.
Completing its mission in one short half-hour stint, the album never loses sight of the potent goal it started. It probably doesn’t take a DNA test, or a trump card, to guess who the title track is aimed at, but there is ample material here for those who prefer their pop written without judgment. Indeed, “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely”, as aching in its lyrics as it sounds in print, is blessed with the most honest vocal Hynde has yet committed to record.
Chugging along to a sprightly, skiffle back-beat, “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” – embellished by Nick Wilkinson’s galloping bass parts – centers the throbbing album. Then there’s “You Can’t Hurt A Fool”, a deeply romantic vignette, essaying Hynde’s smoky pipes; “The Buzz”, perhaps the band’s greatest homage to jaunty American outfit R.E.M ; and “Turf Accountant Daddy”, a sexy, savvy number destined to wake the Western World out of a sexless slumber. “Lightning Man”, every bit as stormy as the title suggests, is as striking to dance to as “I Didn’t Know When to Stop” is haunting to listen to. “Junkie Walk”, meanwhile, seems designed for the live stage, although owing to the continued limits of the Corona Pandemic, that won’t be for some time.
Instead, we should spend this time listening, re-listening, and memorizing The Pretenders eleventh effort. Caught in the unhurried world, comes one of 2020’s most excitingly busy efforts. Clearly, punk energy is a strong draw for Hynde, reveling as she does in a genre that seems more essential than ever. Hate For Sale proves again, Hynde is at her best when bouncing off a crack team of musicians. What makes this album additionally exhilarating is Street’s slick sheen, producing an effort that aims to reignite the passion The Pretenders lit back in the early Eighties. May that light never go out!
-Photo: Chrissie Hynde, 2018 (Getty Images)