By Jeff Burger
Hate for Sale is only the fourth album to be credited to the Pretenders in this century, but that’s misleading: Pretender-in-chief Chrissie Hynde has also released a couple of CDs under her own name in recent years as well as a collaborative project with Welsh singer JP Jones, and it’s often difficult to see why some albums bear the band name and others do not. The Pretenders lost two of their four original members to drug overdoses way back in 1982 and 1983; and a third member, the great drummer Martin Chambers, disappeared from the credit lists after 2002’s Loose Screw. For a long time now, albums variously credited to the Pretenders and Hynde have consisted largely of her material and have been performed by her and whomever she felt like playing with at the moment.
That’s still the case on Hate for Sale, but this CD arguably has a bit more claim to the Pretenders name than its recent predecessors: Chambers is back on board for this album, which also benefits from the return of producer Stephen Street, who last worked with the group on 1999’s Viva el Amor. Another big plus is the consistently tuneful material, all of it cowritten by Hynde and James Walbourne, her lead guitarist since 2008. Their compositions don’t break much new ground; instead, they find the Pretenders mostly delivering the jingle-jangle guitar, great hooks, and insistent beats that infused many of their early gems. The band—and especially Chambers and Walbourne—are on fire, and Hynde proves once again that she ranks among rock’s greatest vocalists.
The 10-track album is rather brief at 31 minutes, and it does contain a couple of throwaways, the plodding “Junkie Walk” and “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely.” But winners predominate, including beautifully sung ballads like “You Can’t Hurt a Fool” and “Crying in Public” and rockers such as “The Buzz” and “Maybe Love Is in NYC,” both of which capture much of the magic of early hits like “Back on the Chain Gang” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”
Pretenders fans will not be disappointed.
Sylvie Simmons, Blue on Blue. Sylvie Simmons and I are both longtime music journalists who have published books on Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen and Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, respectively). One way we differ: when it comes to making music, my talent begins and ends with the ability to expertly operate only two instruments—the CD player and the record player—whereas Simmons also plays ukulele, sings, and composes.
On this excellent follow-up to Sylvie, her 2014 debut album, she sounds a lot like 1960s-era Marianne Faithfull but with more folk flavor and less pop. “A ukulele has a sad, fractured sweetness,” Simmons has said, and so do these 11 dreamy songs, which feature enigmatic, sometimes dark lyrics. Highlights include “The Thing They Don’t Tell You About Girls,” in which she confides, “Since you’re gone I keep away from bridges, trains, and razor blades”; and the even more melancholy “Waiting for the Shadows to Fall,” which limns the end of a romance.
Another winner is the countrified “1000 Years Before I Met You,” in which a relationship is in tatters and “there’s three more hours till morning and a bottle on the floor.” Simmons shares vocals on this one with Giant Sand’s Howie Gelb, who plays keyboards and guitar throughout the album and produced both Blue on Blue and its predecessor.
The Five Keys, Collection 1951-58. The Five Keys, an R&B vocal group from Newport News, Virginia, broke into the pop Top 40 chart three times, with “Ling, Ting, Tong” (1954), “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (1956), and “Wisdom of a Fool” (1957). But like the “5” Royales, another fine and influential doo-wop group from the period, they never had a major hit and never experienced the fame enjoyed by such similarly styled progenitors as the Ink Spots and contemporaries like the Platters. But their level of success—which did include four major R&B hits—barely hints at their talent.
This well-annotated three-CD, 85-track anthology collects the A and B sides from all of their Aladdin and Capitol singles released between 1951 and 1958, the period when they made their most significant music, as well as studio material from their spuriously titled Five Keys on Stage album. Their multiple talented lead vocalists and complex five-part harmonies enliven original material as well as such standards as “The Glory of Love” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.” If you like doo-wop (and what’s not to like?), you need this collection.
Nocona, Los Dos. Five years after the release of their sophomore effort, the Los Angeles–based Nocona are back with this third album, which is being accurately billed as a wedding of Americana, punk, and psychedelia. It was worth the wait. The live-in-the-studio recording reflects the eclectic tastes of group prime mover Chris Isom, who cites influences ranging all the way from Elizabeth Cotton and Mississippi John Hurt to the 13th Floor Elevators, ZZ Top, and the Kinks. Isom provides lead vocals and lead guitar and penned all of the music by himself with the exception of the title track, which he wrote with coproducer Jay Braun.
“There’s part of me that’s always wanted to [have people] walk away from our band thinking they’d never heard anything like that before,” says Isom. He won’t quite get that wish with this album, whose songs do often sound redolent of such outfits as the Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, and New Riders of the Purple Sage as well as more contemporary acts like Wilco and the Jayhawks. That doesn’t mean the album isn’t first-rate, however. This is intelligently written, consistently accessible, well-sung, and well-played material from a band that deserves to be as big as many of the acts that influenced it.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.