Like many Rock Icons, Chrissie Hynde has reached a point in her career where she has nothing left to prove -- she's free to continue making albums until she gets tired of the enterprise, and fans will buy them without a second thought (and without reading the reviews). The most surprising thing about the Pretenders' eighth studio album, then, isn't the fact that it's better than it needs to be, but that it's on an independent label. For upstart Artemis, Loose Screw
is a sure thing -- as long as fans know it's out, it'll sell.
Kudos to Hynde, then, for making an album this good. Loose Screw's persistent reggae foundation may stir unpleasant memories of UB40 collaborations, but it's almost always applied with restraint -- more of a rhythmic presence (see "Clean Up Woman", "Time", "Complex Person", etc.) than an embarrassing Caucasian atrocity. The unexpectedly harsh "Lie To Me" makes a fitting opener -- it's brash and punkish, and repeats its first refrain-phrase ("If you lie to me again...") six times, teasing like a nagging vinyl skip. "Fools Must Die" is stroppy enough to squeeze onto Learning to Crawl, while "I Should Of" could be a radio hit on the strength of its radiant chorus (though they'll have to dump Hynde's frustrated "fuck" midway through the track). "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart", a Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly tune, will suit fans of the group's comeback "hit" material, though the duo's other contribution, "Saving Grace", is less cloying; don't be surprised when quick-thinking Artemis marketers squeeze it into an episode of Gilmore Girls or Ed or the like. As for the cover of All Seeing I's "Walk Like A Panther", Hynde makes it her own; the lyrics are a good fit for her distinctive delivery.
As usual, the relationship between lyrics and song titles is a little too facile for comfort. Play any one of these songs to a friend who hasn't heard it before; unless he/she is particularly slow-witted or writes for Delusions of Adequacy, guessing the song title will be easy.
Loose Screw's twelve songs fit nicely into the band's established form, adding a slightly modern edge with sampled instruments and electronic percussion. Hynde's performance is undiluted; everything that made the Pretenders great twenty-odd years ago is still in place, nicely matured. There are no sweeping creative revelations -- are there ever, on eighth albums? -- but nothing here sullies the group's legacy either.