Back in the rock gang: Chrissie Hynde shows she’s still a class act with a soulful new Pretenders album, says ADRIAN THRILLS
THE PRETENDERS: Hate For Sale (BMG)
Verdict: Still a force to be reckoned with
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Unfollow The Rules (BMG)
Verdict: Baroque pop with sweeping tunes
MARGO PRICE: That’s How Rumors Get Started (Loma Vista)
Verdict: Gritty country tunes
For a band that got together in the white heat of London’s punk scene, The Pretenders were strangely at odds with the abrasive sounds of the late 1970s.
Singer Chrissie Hynde, a teenager in the 1960s, grew up with American pop radio and her songs had an old-fashioned melodic sheen as a result.
Those traits are to the fore again on The Pretenders’ 11th album. Hynde, 68, who moved to London from Akron, Ohio, in 1973, remains a big fan of the three-minute pop song and Hate For Sale is full of them. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ she says.
It’s a return to what Hynde does best. Last September, she released her first jazz album, an engaging enough solo effort that saw her tackle standards made famous by Frank Sinatra and Charles Mingus.
Chrissie Hynde, 68, who moved to London from Akron, Ohio, in 1973, remains a big fan of the three-minute pop song and Hate For Sale is full of them. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ she says
In quarantine, she has kept herself busy posting acoustic covers of Bob Dylan songs online. But she’s most at home singing her own material — and it shows.
Hate For Sale is out next week, though five of its ten tracks — in a drip-feed tactic that has become common with albums delayed by lockdown — are now available to stream.
Clocking in at 30 minutes, it’s the first Pretenders album she has made with her hard-rocking touring band.
Its predecessor, 2016’s Alone, was made with The Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach and session musicians, but she’s accompanied here by versatile guitarist James Walbourne, bassist Nick Wilkinson and fellow founding member and drummer Martin Chambers.
Echoes of yesteryear abound. Hynde and Chambers lost the band’s two other original members, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, to drugs in 1982 and 1983, but there are traces of the duo’s lingering influence in the bright, chiming chords of The Buzz, which recalls 1979’s Kid, and Maybe Love Is In NYC.
As he did when he worked with Blur, producer Stephen Street falls back on a guitar-heavy wall of sound. Turf Accountant Daddy is a stomping garage-rock number. The title track features wailing harmonica.
The melodica-led Lightning Man offers a change of pace, pairing Hynde’s languorous voice with lilting reggae.
The songs address affairs of the heart without being sentimental. The Buzz explores infatuation and reaches the conclusion that love is ‘a drug like any other’.
Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely celebrates the end of a relationship — ‘losing you was a relief’ — while pondering the less appealing prospect of solitude.
Hynde also emphasises her ability to pack an emotional punch on the ballads You Can’t Hurt A Fool — ‘genuine fools don’t play by the rules’ — and Crying In Public.
The latter contradicts her claim that this isn’t a break-up album, but it tugs at the heartstrings with a candour that confirms she’s still a force to be reckoned with.
A straightforward career was never on Rufus Wainwright’s agenda.
The son of singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he’s a polymath who has fluctuated between opulent pop, show tunes and opera.
His last album, 2016’s Take All My Loves, set nine romantic Shakespeare sonnets to music.
His ninth LP is being trumpeted as a return to the mainstream for the first time since 2012’s Mark Ronson-produced Out Of The Game. But Wainwright’s idea of accessibility doesn’t quite tally with the norm.
Unfollow The Rules is an ornate collection that, at its worst, edges towards bombast.
He remains hugely talented, though. Elton John once hailed him as our greatest living singer-songwriter, and the 46-year-old Montreal-raised artist believes he’s on the cusp of his best years.
Rufus Wainwright’s Unfollow The Rules is an ornate collection that, at its worst, edges towards bombast
‘My aim is to emulate the greats of yore whose second acts produced their finest work — Leonard Cohen, Sinatra and Paul Simon,’ he says. No pressure, then.
Reflecting a theatrical spirit, the album is split into three acts. The first opens with Trouble In Paradise, which uses the fashion industry as a metaphor for the woes of the world, and Damsel In Distress.
Set by London’s Sloane Square — or ‘behind the square of Sloane, under the English moon,’ as Rufus puts it — the latter is a breezily strummed homage to Joni Mitchell that veers off on a progressive jazz-folk tangent more reminiscent of Jethro Tull.
The title track and, from Act III, Early Morning Madness are overwrought, but Wainwright’s flowing melodies ultimately win through.
Act II is lifted by Romantical Man and Peaceful Afternoon, a tribute to Wainwright’s husband of eight years, theatre producer Jorn Weisbrodt.
There’s also, on You Ain’t Big, a wry comment on the need for any aspiring star to win over the U.S. heartlands before they can say they’ve made it.
Rufus mentions Alabama, Wichita and Topeka, but singles out the unfortunate city of Lawrence, Kansas — which, he says, ‘doesn’t really matter at all’ — as the exception to the rule.
Margo Price got her big break when she was signed by Jack White’s Third Man label after being shunned by Nashville.
She celebrated her outsider status with two hard-bitten country-rock albums — Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and All American Made — and continues to sing of long nights and hard days on That’s How Rumors Get Started.
Her first record with a new label sticks to familiar outlaw themes, with Letting Me Down celebrating two teen runaways who ‘borrowed money . . . and left a hole in this town’.
She has broadened her scope, too, with help from Tom Petty’s keyboardist Benmont Tench and a gospel choir. There’s even, on Heartless Mind, some new-wave electronics.
Having survived the school of hard knocks, though, the former waitress is wary of getting carried away. ‘I won’t forget what it’s like to be poor,’ she sings on Stone Me. ‘I could be there again, baby, that’s for sure.’
On this showing, that’s unlikely.
The Pretenders’ Hate For Sale is out on July 17; the other two albums are out now.
Tribute songs? Folk artist Kate has got them covered
Buoyed by the positive reaction to her plaintive version of Oasis’s Don’t Go Away, released last year, Yorkshire folk singer Kate Rusby has clearly been bitten by the covers bug.
She has now turned her attention to Prince, interpreting The Purple One’s Manic Monday, and The Cure, putting a fresh spin on Friday I’m In Love.
Manic Monday, made in lockdown with help from Kate’s guitarist husband Damien O’Kane, is striking.
Kate Rusby has turned her attention to Prince, interpreting The Purple One’s Manic Monday, and The Cure, putting a fresh spin on Friday I’m In Love. Harmony vocals come courtesy of her daughters, Daisy and Phoebe (pictured, above, with her)
With harmony vocals from the couple’s daughters, Daisy and Phoebe, she taps smartly into the melancholy of a song that was a hit for The Bangles in 1986. A full covers album, Hand Me Down, follows next month.
Performing as Christine And The Queens, French singer Héloïse Letissier has also been busy.
Her home-based Instagram Live gigs have included self-produced covers of songs by Neil Young and The Weeknd, and her new single, Eyes Of A Child, opens as a keyboard ballad before taking wing as a powerfully sung guitar track.
Little has been heard of Minneapolis band Semisonic since their 2001 album All That Chemistry, with singer Dan Wilson focusing on composing for other artists — he hit the jackpot in co-writing Adele’s Someone Like You.
But the trio reunited in 2017 and new single You’re Not Alone, their first in 19 years, is an uplifting pop anthem.