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A difficult second album
on 4 March 2009
The Pretenders second lp represents a wasted opportunity. At this point, Chrissie Hynde could just about have sung the Yellow Pages and made it - and that seems to have been the approach she took to songwriting on Pretenders II. While the first album had its problems in terms of track sequencing - I've never liked the way it divided into new wave on side one and power pop on side two - there was an urgency to it and conviction. By the second lp, The Pretenders seemed unsure whether they should continue to be in any way a punk act or should go with the success that their glorious singles had brought them.
Unfortunately, that uncertainty resulted in a follow-up full of filler. The production hardly helps, suggesting that while they may not be punk, exactly, The Pretenders are at least "loud". There is an amplfied emptiness to many of the songs, starting with the dull double whammy of The Adultress and Bad Boys Get Spanked. It is noticeable, at least at this distance of time, that all Chrissie Hynde's best moments are tender love songs, or interpretations of tender love songs. Despite the leather and the Vivienne Westwood chic of her earlier London incarnation, she makes an unconvincing adultress and dominatrix. The treatment given the vocals seems perverse, but perhaps it was meant to make the singer sound more the part.
Several other songs strive and yet fail for sheer lack of content. The attempt to sound angry in Jealous Dogs and Pack It Up comes over as forced, like a sort of muted heavy metal. These duffer tracks break the flow of the wonderful 45s - Talk of the Town, Day After Day, Message of Love, I Go To Sleep. Talk of the Town is an inexplicably great pop song, weaving a spell in less than three minutes, somehow creating a portrait of a relationship that feels completely right. Day After Day describes, without its words even, the manic headlong nature of pop life. Message of Love has that great Oscar Wilde quote thrown in and I Go to Sleep hints at what a sweet album this could have been if The Pretenders had given into their instincts and made a whole record of sixties-style pop nuggets.
There are one and a half good reasons to buy this album rather than just listen to one or other of the singles packages. Birds of Paradise is an astonishingly lovely song and could well have been another single. Hynde sings beautifully, and it has her stamp all over it. Nobody else could have written the song. The album finishes with the confusingly named and much-maligned Louie Louie, which is actually pretty cool and kind of funny - the one funny moment in an album that swings between angry-sounding mediocrity and tender brilliance.