Picks and Pans Review: Learning to Crawl

updated 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Pretenders

From the moment the first Pretenders album was released in 1980, Chrissie Hynde was rightfully hailed as one of rock's brightest new talents. There had never been a voice quite like hers—a calm, sultry alto, with a haunting vibrato. Nor, in a female singer/songwriter, had there been such a stance—tough, sensual, self-possessed, caustic. But following the disappointing Pretenders II in 1981, two of the band's four members died from drugs. A year ago Hynde gave birth to a daughter. Afterward, retaining original drummer Martin Chambers, she formed a new band with guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster. Though not as experimental as the original Pretenders, the new outfit is just as taut and persuasive, and Hynde is better than ever. In place of the old haughtiness is a new emotional directness, notably about the bond of motherhood. In Thumbelina, a high-stepping country-rocker, a woman who has just left her husband drives across the desert with her daughter, whom she comforts, "Hush little baby/My poor little thing/You've been shuffled about/Like a pawned wedding ring." The album moves authoritatively from old-fashioned rock 'n' roll (Watching the Clothes, about a waitress spending her Saturday nights in a Laundromat) to soul (Thin Line Between Love and Hate, about a wife who puts her husband in the hospital after he comes home at 5 a.m. once too often). Especially striking is the slow, smoky I Hurt You (" 'cause you hurt me"), which has the intense, relentless focus of an interrogation. It parches your throat. (Sire)

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