My first introduction to The Pretenders was seeing Chrissie Hynde play the waitress, and her band the customers, in the early video for “Brass in Pocket.” But the video that I waited to see over and over again was the one for “Tattooed Love Boys.” Seeing Chrissie all dressed in black, caressing that guitar like a machine, in my excited mind that made into a soldier of lust as she seductively tossed out lyrics like “Little tease, but I didn’t mean it/ but you mess with the goods doll, you gotta pay.” That was only the beginning, but Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders had already won my little rebellious heart over.
To me, Hynde always had an air of timelessness to her music and on-stage persona. She’s always been my ultimate dream rocker girl. She’s rarely shown skin but there’s definitely something sexy about Chrissie Hynde. It has to be her enticing and powerful stage presence that’s matched with her lyrical tongue that’s sharp, sultry and cerebral. I’ve grown and now have fond romantic memories that are linked to Hynde and her songs with The Pretenders. Longing love is a theme that has been a constant in many of my favorite Hynde-sung songs. I have a connection to these lyrics that mirrored the pining for a romantic connection in my life. “2000 Miles” was the theme for a long distant flame that moved to Portland. “Back on the Chain Gang” was the soundtrack of a wintertime love that was sparked on a drive through Lincoln Park, Chicago. Her cover of Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep” from Isle of View, my favorite Pretenders album, reflected the yearning of a distant San Antonio lover who kept her kisses at a passionate distance.
I do have to say the ultimate Chrissie Hynde love song has to “Hymn to Her.” Written by Meg Keen, a childhood friend in Akron, “Hymn to Her” is her personal “Hallelujah.” Her lyrics reveal a timelessness of love. There’s romantic passion, from the “let me inside you” line and especially in the amazing vocal delivery by Hynde in naked harmonium version from Isle of View. That version matches the lyrical intensity of the “Remember when I moved in you…” lyric from Cohen’s. Both songs deal with intimacy. It’s as if the lyrics connect the emotions of being in the moment of vulnerability being tied to the eventual loss of love. You can hear this clearly when Hynde sings:
“…something is lost
but something is found
they will keep on
speaking her name
some things change
some stay the same.”
This same evolution of love is a theme that is heard in The Pretenders latest, Break Up the Concrete. Throughout the lyrics of this dynamic release, Chrissie Hynde is on a lyrical journey searching for the reasons why she always ends up lonely within the arms of amor. The opening number sounds like Chrissie and The Pretenders have been hanging out at Memphis, Tennessee’s Sun Records. “Boots of Chinese Plastic” is a rockabilly number that has a John Entwistle-like “My Generation” bass line with a rolling, riffing backbeat that echoes Pixies “Isla de Encanta.” When Hynde sings “Every drop that runs through the vein always makes its way back to the heart again…“the lyrics reflect her searching for faith to help her find understanding of heartbreak.
You will hear the return of this rockabilly vibe on the title track in which reverberates within Hynde’s optimistic mindset of being alone. “The Nothing Maker” has Hynde singing a sympathetic number for the typical man she attracts. This is an ode to falling for the Lloyd Dobblers of the world or as John Cusack eloquent said, in Say Anything, “what I want to do for a living – is I want to be with you.” I’m paraphrasing but it has the same effect about a man who wants no other fate than being with the object of his affection.
Hynde still tries to cling to these dysfunctional relationships on the next track. “Don’t Lose Faith in Me” is Hynde trying to hold on to a failed relationship, crooning with a bit of Southern soul as she sings “If you lose harmony, you won’t need me.” It sounds like some of these flames are jealous of the connection Hynde has for her creative music. All they have is the love for her. I imagine that these guys can’t get over the fact that Hynde’s a rock artist and her music becomes a contention within the relationship.
Even with a song like “You Didn’t Have To,” when Chrissie sings “thank you boy for the time that we wasted…the things that you said,” it’s still a celebration of another broken affair. It goes back to the advice she sung on the opening number, everything makes it back to the heart.
I’ve fallen for the slide guitar sound in “Love’s a Mystery.” This is the definitive song on Break Up the Concrete. The key line in this lovely song is “A multiple offender should learn from his mistakes/ I’m ready to surrender if that’s what it takes.” It sounds like after a number of failed marriages, Chrissie still believes in love. You can feel it in her voice, which sounds as alive and passionate as ever. It’s as if Hynde wanted to capture the spirit of her romantic inspirations on tape. You can hear it on each of these vibrant songs.
My favorite song, however, is Hynde’s lusty “Almost Perfect.” She is telling her new lover to never change. You know that feeling—the spark of a new love—Hynde brings these emotions to life when she instructs him to “come inside my hive.” I love the feel of this song; it has an almost jazzy arrangement reflecting the romantic nature of Hynde’s lyrics. Listen for Chrissie clearing her throat before the last verse. It brings a sense of nervousness as she’s trying to seduce her new flame.
Break Up the Concrete ends with the bluesy heartache of “One Thing Never Changed.” Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar is showcased once again in this aching number in which Hynde sings about the boy that she loved, having to “go back to a world where I don’t belong.”
That lyric is why after all of these years, the older I become, I will always be a devoted follower of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders. Hynde doesn’t just sing these songs, she’s lived them. Her life has been all about reaching for something greater while falling in and out of love. When she sings, it’s if her lyrics reveal the truth inside all of us. We hear the pain and pleasure in Hynde songs that are familiar tastes in our own lives.
Break Up the Concrete is an album about growing older and still learning about love in a voice and a feeling that’s pure Chrissie Hynde. This is the same Hynde whose only consistent bond has been with the creative callings of her band The Pretenders. Traditionally, The Pretenders’ sound is born from her two backgrounds—the classic American pop songs with a punk rock aesthetic. Hynde and The Pretenders have evolved into a band that has aged like a fine wine. After all these years, Hynde and her messages of Love are some of the most personal that I’ve consistently craved. One trip inside Break Up the Concrete and be prepared to fall once again. She’s still the most passionate rocker I’ve ever had the pleasure to have grown up with. Since 1976, Chrissie Hynde has been someone whose lyrical heartstrings have been exposed in all that we desire within the glory of her songs.