Music Review: A little too much beauty and not enough beast on new Pretenders album, 'Relentless'

This cover image released by Rhino Records shows "Relentless" by The Pretenders. (Rhino Records via AP)

Chrissie Hynde 's talent is a musical gift from heaven, a one-of-a-kind voice that powered her band, the Pretenders, into creating some of rock's most memorable songs in the 1970s and '80s.

Drawing out words into more syllables than they came with (like the way “back on the train” becomes "back on the trai-hayne" in the 1982 hit “Back on the Chain Gang,”) her performance can be smooth and beautiful, and it can be raw and rocking.

On the band's latest album, “Relentless,” Hynde and guitarist James Walbourne opt heavily for the former, and perhaps a bit too much.

After the brooding, minor chord mourning opener, “Losing My Sense of Taste,” and the following track “A Love,” a direct descendant of classic '60s pop, the band snuggles down into a protracted series of slow-paced, evocative songs.

There's no other word except “drowsy” to describe some of these tracks, including “The Copa,” “Promise of Love” and “I Think About You Daily.”

You'd probably think a song with the title “Your House Is on Fire” would be a full-speed ahead rocker, full of urgency and immediacy. And you'd be wrong.

This may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your taste and tolerance for ballads. The sparse arrangement on many of these tracks allows Hynde's voice to fill the spaces, and she uses it to maximum effect.

Some tracks, like “Merry Widow,” start off slowly but then allow the guitars to grow louder and more present as the song progresses. In a welcome shift, “Vainglorious” is a power chord-forward song harkening back to the band's early punk rock days.

But “Relentless” does not deliver fast-paced rockers like some of the band's biggest hits, including “Mystery Achievement,” “Precious” and “Middle of the Road.”

Don't get me wrong: The Pretenders are one of the great bands, capable of playing any kind of music at any time and doing it almost flawlessly. But there's just a little too much relenting here.


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