Chrissie Hynde has led some version of the Pretenders for 30-plus years. Despite being the primary songwriter, vocalist, guiding force and frontwoman of each iteration of the group, Hynde, 62, has long maintained that she is a band member and has had little interest in fronting the Chrissie Hynde Experience.
The Pretenders’ last release, the relatively raw, rockabilly-informed Break Up The Concrete (2008), featured an all-new band; Hynde’s follow-up, the fun and loose Fidelity, was recorded with her then-professional and personal partner, singer/songwriter JP Jones.
Now, after being under the music radar for a few years, the Akron native has resurfaced with Stockholm, her first solo album, which was released Tuesday. Though Stockholm has been released under Hynde’s name, it is actually a collaboration with producer Björn Yttling, aka the bass player and producer of Swedish indie popsters Peter Björn & John.
Together the unlikely pair (Hynde was unfamiliar with PB&J’s music) have made a solid AAA album, ripe with songs ready-made to fill the WAPS (91.3-FM) playlist, and finds Hynde working the midrange of her still strong, velvety contralto voice.
Yttling’s production and music played by some fellow Swedes is calm and friendly with polite drums, lightly rocking guitars and the occasional mechanized groove. The album opener You Or No One sports a ’60s Phil Spector-esque pop feel with a catchy top melody and chorus as Hynde sings an unabashed love song.
The album’s lead single, the adult-rocker Dark Sunglasses, certainly recalls latter-day Pretenders with a little of the patented Hynde attitude as she sings “Yeah you had a go at sleeping in the van, but you couldn’t let it go too far, now you got a pension plan and your name’s on the insurance and you can drive another woman’s car.”
Likewise, Hynde unleashes vitriol at a (presumed) former paramour on A Plan Too Far, singing “You’re as consistent as a weathervane cock, still pretending you can beat the clock.”
Hynde gets a little six-string help from buddy Neil Young (who inducted the Pretenders into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005) in the form of some suitably rubbery guitar solos on the acerbic, self-flagellating Down The Wrong Way. The rising chorus of the catchy featherweight pop-rocker Sweet Nuthin’ is destined for selective commercial licensing, and on the dramatic closing ballad Adding The Blue, Hynde uses her signature vibrato and an artist-painting metaphor to singing dramatically and affectingly, “I can’t draw from memories or photos, I need blood and breath and you left me nothing.”
Longtime fans of Hynde and the Pretenders should find plenty to enjoy among Stockholm’s 11 tracks. The album contains little of the lyrical and none of the sonic attitude that helped make Hynde a strong, feminine rock icon, but it is an enjoyable, sultry collection of solid tunes.
Hynde’s history suggests that once she and her new band of young guns hit the road and begin mixing old Pretenders tunes into the set list, these new songs will likely gain some needed rough edges that Yttling’s production purposely avoids. But for summer driving, lazy patio drinking and general relaxing, Stockholm makes a fine, tuneful soundtrack.