Monday, September 19, 2016

1980 - Pretenders

1980 was a year of transition. Rock was suffocating under the weight of the New Wave and disco still wouldn't go away. By midyear we'd all glued to our turntables side one of The B-52s (even if we didn't admit it). Those of us brooding over the death of Ian Curtis found the dark side with Seventeen Seconds and Echo and the Bunnymen, but Pretenders announced, quite vehemently, that rock wasn't done. Without an ounce of hyperbole, this white-hot collaboration between an American expatriate and three Englishmen at the tail end of the punk movement resulted in a 12-song set that in it's quality, influence, vision, range, ambition and plain old rock 'n' roll energy has rarely been matched. Punk to pop, country to new-wave soul, it's all here, and none of it sounds like genre-hopping. It's a totally organic sound. Instantly recognizable. 

This gem of a record starts with a count-off leading into the lacerating "Precious". Chrissie Hynde's vibrato purr over her compatriots' buzzsaw-back-up heralds rock 'n' roll we've never heard before. The now-famous four-letter exhortation spit at the listener startles you ("Not me baby I'm too precious...@#$% off!"), warning you to buckle up for the ride, as the album begins. Hynde's vocals are as incomprehensible as Michael Stipe's (which bothered me for years till I realized what she was saying). After all these years, I can do without "Brass in Pocket," yet every other venture is spot on. 
Unfortunately the sessions' best release, "Talk of the Town," didn’t make the LP, taking the route of "Good Vibrations" and "Strawberry Fields." ("Talk of the Town" is my personal fave for single of the year.)

Keeping in mind that of those LPs already reviewed in this series, Pretenders is my lease favorite, it's impossible not to note the impact of this rock album in a time when most had proclaimed that rock was dead. In trying to explain why The Pretenders' debut is so great, it may be easier to explain what it is not. This is not a new-wave album. No synths or vocoder nonsense here, just a straight up vocals, guitar, drum and bass rock album. Pretenders is also not a full on rock assault. No punk or Van Halen-esque guitar solos or attempts thereof. Instead, Pretenders is velvet rope garage rock without apology or pretense, with Hynde propelling the band in a gender neutral stance that’s tough for tough’s sake. This was my era, my salad days and the wealth of music that enriched my days was phenomenal. Among my favorites were Japan's Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Remain in Light (Talking Heads best LP), Peter Gabriel’s 3rd eponymous release, Closer, Sandinista, Argy Bargy and The Feelies, but it's Pretenders that kept rock alive, despite those of us (myself included) who'd shunned the genre for The Cure and Killing Joke and Ultravox. It took a long time for those of us lucky enough to have the 80s as our musical domain to realize that in aeternum it would be The Beatles that we cherish, Pink Floyd who we fuck to and The Pretenders who showed us how to rock again.