Pretenders - Learning To Crawl
And could new members actually do anything else than fill shoes? Were the Pretenders going to become just another backing band for a talented female vocalist? Was this album going to be worth listening to at all? So, having survived the traumas, how much of a temptation would it have been to write and album of mournful songs detailing the cruelty of life and extolling the virtues of departed loved ones. Well, Chrissie Hynde did not do that either. OK, I suppose "Back on the Chain Gang" is a kind of tribute, not so much to Honeyman-Scott and Farndon, but to the need to get back to music to get over the loss.
At the end of the day, it was Chrissie Hynde herself who was able to pull things through. Possessed of a distinctive and powerful voice and a seemingly iron will, not to mention her ability to turn out a good tune, the return of the Pretenders was announced by a brace of singles designed to appeal to the mainstream, of which the aforementioned "Back On The Chain Gang" was inevitably one. The other, "2000 Miles", I did not like at first, but its association with Christmas has mellowed that opinion somewhat though I still find it appealing only for its associations rather than any inherent musical noteworthiness.
Other tracks on the album are slightly more varied. "My City Was Gone" is a good solid number while "Middle of the Road", with its cracking guitar solo and excellent harmonica work was and remains one of my all time favourite tracks. Interesting about this track is that it forms one of the earliest examples of the deliberate use of the loud-quiet-loud format which would become so prevalent in the late eighties and early nineties. Some of the other tracks inspired me less, but on the whole this is a positive album which deserves to be appreciated. If you are going to return from a long-ish lay off, then there are probably much worse ways to do it than this.
The result was an album which is probably the best of the Pretenders' output. It is run through with good songwriting and some excellent guitar work. Hynde manages to show some true lyrical maturity without resorting to the maudlin. Even a track like "Watching the Clothes" about the dull dullness of the dullest of all dull tasks - going to the lauderette and washing your underwear - comes out as a song worth listening to over again.
I had not heard this in a long time, "Middle of the Road" apart, until I decided to review it. When I revisited it for this review I was once again pleasantly surprised as it came out better than I had remembered it to be and much less patchy and incoherent. Accordingly, I have revised my opinion of the album as a whole and this is reflected in the higher rating I have now accorded it.
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