November 20, 2008


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Pretenders, Break Up the Concrete
Shangri-La Records, Oct. 7

The only whiz-bang epithet for this occasion is The Girl’s Still Got It. It’s hard to imagine it any other way, though. Chrissie Hynde got away with an ultimate groupie trip — the time she had the kid with Ray Davies — but no one (no one intelligent, or cool, or humanoid I mean) ever thought of her as a groupie, and that’s power. We always wanted to know what she was talking about in her lyrics, too, and even at 50-whatever, she embodies the smoldering-hot, unreadable, way-too-smart chick in the corner, people-watching and taking names if you’ve got the guts to ask her for her take.

We’ve known for a long time now that The Pretenders without all the rest of The Pretenders — the dead-from-drugs guys — is still The Chrissie Hynde Band but obsessed with choo-choo-train rockabilly, and the title track here is the essence of this as we witness Hynde morphing into a meowing George Thorogood, sounding out a drum roll with her voice in a “duk duk dukka dukka” that’s the sort of eff-you to everything up to and including rock itself that these whippersnappers nowadays would never dream of attempting for fear of failing some sort of imaginary final exam of rock or whatnot.

And like clockwork we read the lyric sheets because we don’t have the guts to ask her take. She rants (gently) about how crummy Akron’s become (the title track, again) just like she did in “My City Was Gone.” She tries to save mankind from greed (“Don’t Cut Your Hair”). And she tries to save herself from her inner romantic (“Love’s a Mystery”). But the best thing about this is that it’s a real, actual Pretenders album, here in the flesh, even after 9/11 and New Orleans and Justin Timberlake being elected the white Michael Jackson. That sort of simple pleasure is way too rare. AEric W. Saeger