Chrissie Hynde, Dan Auerbach shine on Pretenders' 'Alone'
Chrissie Hynde has been quite active recently. In the past two years, the lead singer and leader of (whoever she decides are currently) the Pretenders released her first solo album, "Stockholm," and her memoir, "Reckless: My Life as a Pretender," which stirred some controversy over her comments about her rape.
Now, eight years after rustic rock of "Break Up the Concrete," Hynde revives the Pretenders with assistance from Black Keys singer and guitarist and fellow Akronite Dan Auerbach. The Firestone High School hall of famers, who once bonded at a music festival over the old O'Neil's Department Store jingle, have joined forces for "Alone," a rollicking collection of tunes that meshes the hallmarks of both artists.
Originally intended to be the follow-up to the solid "Stockholm," it became a Pretenders album during the recording process. While "Stockholm," recorded and produced with Swedish musicians Bjorn Yttling and Joakim Ahlund, was mostly filled with polite grooves and lightly rocking guitars, "Alone" is a louder, looser collection and a full-on Auerbach production, recorded at his Easy Eye Studios in Nashville.
Like "Break Up the Concrete," which also had a live feel, "Alone" features the Grammy-winning producer's signature analog, old-school sound, similar to the Black Keys' Brothers and El Camino. Auerbach digs into his producer's trick bag, using a variety of hard-panned vintage keyboards, blues-infused, crunchy fuzz guitars filling the spaces between chords, big grooving drums on the uptempo tunes, round thumping bass and, of course, plenty of reverb.
The band includes several first-call Nashville studio musicians who have names like Johnny Cash and Blake Shelton on their resumes. There's an appearance by the twang bar king Duane Eddy, along with a few of Auerbach's cohorts in his side band The Arcs, specifically Leon Michaels and Richard Swift, the latter of whom co-wrote "Alone." And, of course, the whole shebang sounds like it was recorded live-to-tape in the same room.
Auerbach, his crew and Hynde do a fine job of matching her library of vocal styles to the music, and her voice has found new life since she quit smoking a few years ago. Hynde recorded her vocals in a short 48 hours, leaving no time to record backing vocals, adding to the loose, natural feel.
Hynde gives fans what they want in the '70s Rolling Stones-flavored album opener, title track and likely concert opener, which finds Chrissie in sing and speak Lou Reed mode touting the joys of autonomy. "Nobody tells me I can't, nobody tells me I shan't, no one to say you're doing it wrong, I'm at my best, I'm where I belong, Alone, I like it!" she sings in that sassy, confident "eff off" tone.
"Roadie Man" praises the hard-working, often black-panted road dogs who take "music to people" over a Booker T & The MG's-esque groove, while a cooing Hynde reminds us all that "whatever happens on the bus, stays on the bus."
Auerbach and the band push the rock on tunes such as the sub-three-minute stomper "Gotta Wait," and then everyone gets into a slinky groove on the surefire soon-to-be-on-91.3-The-Summit "We'll Never Be Together," featuring Eddy.
While "tough rock chick" has long been Hynde's raison d'etre and she's not known as sentimental, she's always had a way with a ballad, and the latter half of the 11-track album gives those skills room.
She's inviting and seductive on the pedal-steel laced "Let's Get Lost," co-written by Amanda Ghost (Beyonce, James Blunt) and Dave McCracken (Alicia Keys, John Legend). She tenderly works her trademark vibrato on "Blue Eyed Sky" over a simmering shuffle, and plays the torch singer on the vaguely "Latin One More Day."
On "I Hate Myself" Hynde sounds like a nihilistic '50s girl group singer after a few Quaaludes and a bottle of cheap wine: "I deserve the worst, my heart is gonna burst, so validate me, hate me where it hurts," she sings dramatically.
At 65, Hynde can still bring the middle-finger-to-the-world attitude, along with the tenderness on command, that infused the Pretenders' first two albums and solidified her image more than 35 years ago. While her songwriting abilities never left and her voice is strong, some of the late '90s and early aughts material was a bit staid sonically.
With Auerbach behind the board, and a band of talented "real people playing real instruments" clearly inspiring her, "Alone" stands out as the best of latter-day Pretenders records.