Pretenders (Warner Bros.)

Album of the week

"They don't make 'em like they used to," Chrissie Hynde sings on "Pop-star," the opening track of this most welcome comeback album. They sure don't make 'em like Chrissie, the guitar-slinging, 47-year-old bandleader and femme rock pioneer who had left her home in Akron, Ohio, and was supporting herself cleaning London houses—Keith Richards' among them—before the teenyboppers she tweaks here were born. It is heartening to find that Hynde has weathered tragedy—two founding Pretenders died of drug overdoses less than a year apart in the early '80s, and her pal Linda McCartney shot this CD's cover photo a month before she died of cancer last year—with her musical verve intact. Resilient as she is, Hynde reminds us in one song, "I'm only human on the inside."

Bottom Line: The great Pretender returns

Various Artists (Arista)

Like a tabloid teaser—AMAZING COTTON-CANDY DIET SECRETS REVEALED!—the blurb that appears under the titular D-word on the cover of this compilation CD invites skepticism: THE GREATEST FEMALE VOCALISTS OF OUR TIME. The first six artists on this 18-track collection compiled in part by label president Clive Davis, who is credited as executive producer, deliver the goods in classic fashion. Billie Holiday ("My Man [Mon Homme]"), Lena Home ("Stormy Weather"), Dinah Washington ("What a Difference a Day Makes") and Ella Fitzgerald ("Someone to Watch Over Me"), as well as Judy Garland and Sarah Vaughan, are as heavenly as musical creatures get. With liner notes by respected critic Nelson George, the collection also includes tracks by pop queens Gladys Knight ("Midnight Train to Georgia"), Tina Turner ("What's Love Got to Do with It") and Aretha Franklin, whose rendition of Puccini's "Nessun dorma" was originally released, along with four other tunes here, on Davis's label. But record buyers will wonder if Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Annie Lennox and Toni Braxton are included because they are among the greatest of our time or because all have been at one time or another Arista artists.

Bottom Line: A compilation that gets caught up in its own label

Alabama (RCA)

Alabama will never be considered artful, but they sure do move a lot of product. Indeed, a high point of this album—"God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You"—is a collaboration between Alabama and the pop quintet 'N Sync, a triumph of commercialism over art if ever there was one.

This is Alabama's 22nd album since 1980, and they have been in if-it-ain't-broke mode since No. 3, so don't expect anything revolutionary. Even the title tune, while it was written by the estimable Don Schlitz ("The Gambler") and Chris A.T. Cummings ("I Waited"), is a kind of dumbed-down tribute to our times: "When he walked on the moon, we were so glad/Yeah, the 20th century wasn't all that bad." And, they note, "The 20th century wasn't all that long." (Well, some may argue the point.) Jeff Cook's "Mist of Desire," on. which he sings lead, is an uncommonly affecting romantic tune, and "I Love You Enough to Let You Go," about a father sending his child off into adulthood, is as warm and fuzzy as the Alabamans get.

Bottom Line: More of the same, and their fans will thank them for it

>Lyle Lovett

For a while there, it looked like Lovett, the offbeat country-music cult favorite and sometime actor (Robert Altman's The Player, Short Cuts and Cookie's Fortune), had gone wholeheartedly Hollywood. But after costarring with Julia Roberts in a headline-grabbing marriage in 1993—the couple divorced in 1995—the 41-year-old Lovett has been back in the music trenches, touring in support of his ninth album, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band Live in Texas (Curb/MCA). He relaxes on the road by driving one of his many beloved off-road motorcycles.

How long have you been into motorcycling?

I worked in a bike shop in high school. I raced back then. I've picked it up again in the past five years. The thrill is in that really physical connection to the earth.

Can you describe the feeling you get while performing?

It's difficult to describe. It's a mixture of being lost inside of what you're doing and being confronted with this tremendous energy that comes to you from a few thousand people who like what you're doing. Each audience has a different personality.

Do fans feel free to stop you to talk?

They like to come up and say hi. They tell me I'm much better-looking in person.

What's your response?

I tell them they're better-looking in person.

  • Contributors:
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Craig Tomashoff.