When it comes to the Pretenders, everyone can agree that the band, at least since the mid 80s, has been Chrissie Hynde with no-name players and the occasional reemergence of original drummer Martin Chambers. As its name implies, Alone, the first album that falls under the Pretenders moniker since 2008’s Break Up The Concrete, is all Hynde. Considering 2014’s Stockholm, Hynde’s debut solo album, could have just as easily been a Pretenders album, it may be difficult to nail down any real distinguishing factors that make Alone a Pretenders album. There are some clues here and there, but most importantly, no matter whose name is on it, is that it’s a strong effort showcasing Hynde’s legend as one of the great female provocateurs of rock.
As a Pretenders record, Alone may be one of the group’s most diverse, thanks to the all-hands-on-deck production of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. Not only did Auerbach shape the songs and sound of the record, he also plays on it, along with bassist Dave Roe, who held it down with Johnny Cash, country guitarist Kenny Vaughan, and members of Auerbach's side project The Arcs — drummer Richard Swift, keyboardist Leon Michels, and pedal steel guitarist Russ Pahl. The king of twang, guitarist Duane Eddy makes an appearance on "Never Be Together." Swimming in reverb, quirky instrumentation, and mystical retro, the one thing you can be assured of is that Hyde’s haunting, dodgy vibrato has never sounded more idiosyncratic and so definitive as to why the Pretenders, against all odds, have endured.
There’s an autobiographic thread running through songs like the upbeat title track, “Let’s Get Lost” and the unsettling “I Hate Myself” that may or may not ascertain where Hynde, at 65, fits into the fabric of the postmodern age of pop music. Auerbach addresses this head-on by allowing Hynde to blossom on her own, edgy terms while providing an undercurrent rich with minimalist verve and agile musicality. Consequently, Hynde coos through a soulful “Roadie Man,” swaggers on “Chord Lord,” and takes firm ownership on the melody and chug of “Gotta Wait, “ arguably the most Pretenders-sounding track on the record.
On the tender moments strewn in the verses of “Blue Eyed Sky” and “Death Is Not Enough,” Hynde’s clear-eyed incantations are emotive, elegant, borderline vulnerable and beguiling. Clearly, the lone Pretender gave the reigns to Auerbach to create a balanced and contemporary spin on what a prominent “band” that rode in on a “new wave” to mainstream consciousness can do on today’s platform of unfettered expectations. Needless to say, fans can rejoice that Hynde has matured into uncompromising, wise dynamo who lets Alone reinforce everything we love, admire and venerate about the Ohio native and her rock and roll instincts.
~ Shawn Perry