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Music Review: The Pretenders – Break Up The Concrete

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There was a time when Chrissie Hynde seemed to be intrinsically linked to London. Her band The Pretenders were riding high with her instantly recognizable voice, which became one of the most played on the airwaves. Hits such as “Brass In Pocket”, “Back On The Chain Gang”, “2000 Miles”, and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” confirmed them as a band that, despite their commercial success, had something to say.

Triumph and tragedy followed but the band in its various guises continued producing thought provoking music. Chrissie always managed to stay clear of female rock star cliché. She wore her causes on her sleeve and sung in a style that became her trademark. Sometimes confrontational, often wise, world-weary, or tough she became an icon for both sexes. In truth, these days The Pretenders are Chrissie plus whatever band she has around her when she feels the need to produce new music. Thankfully, she still does have that desire because Break Up The Concrete is her most impressive work for some time.

Moving back to her native Ohio, she seems to have re-connected with Americana rock roots. The result is a superbly balanced mix of her trademark toughness and wise questioning of world issues. Discussing politics one moment, she can switch effortlessly to sing of relationships the next and does either with an authority of the experience of a life lived. Her honesty makes these songs compellingly effective. You know that this is music written as pages from her life.

The scene is set from the opener “Boots Of Chinese Plastic”, which ranges from religion to reincarnation, and on to the highly relevant issue of world trade. All of this is achieved in little more than two and half minutes. Yes, Chrissie is back, with a lot to say. However, she never preaches, she has a warm philosophical authority that compels you to listen and often learn. Her voice has lost none of its presence over the years and on Break Up The Concrete is on fine form indeed.

For the album she is aided by UK guitarist James Walbourne, the pedal steel of Eric Heywood, bassist Nick Wilkinson, and legendary drummer Jim Keltner. They work as a fine combination and there is an effective live immediacy to the recordings.

Break Up The Concrete has many highlights. They include, “The Nothing Maker” a song that could have us looking deeply into the mirror. “Don’t Lose Faith In Me” which has a world weary blues vibe with Chrissie almost pleading during a characteristically wonderful performance. The country infused radio friendly “Love’s A Mystery”, the catchy “The Last Ride”, and the dreamy “Almost Perfect” ensure that the album moves along nicely. “You Don’t Have To” just has to be one of those Chrissie life experience songs.

There is a mix of styles with the jagged punk of “Don’t Cut Your Hair” and the blues boogie of “Rosalee” adding an eclectic feel to the whole. The title track has Chrissie verbally breaking up the concrete to a Bo Diddley beat, for a cause close to her heart, the environment. The utterly superb “One Thing Never Changes” is sadness personified, a pedal steel closer that will leave you staring into the half distance.

The journey back full circle to Ohio has clearly connected Chrissie to a vein of creativity that has helped make Break Up The Concrete an outstanding achievement.

When she sings, we listen. It is as simple and effective as that.

Go to The Pretenders official website or the Myspace profile for news on the album.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • Brien Comerford

    “Break Up The Concrete” verifies why Chrissie Hynde is the greatest female vocalist in music. Her vocals are rugged, tender, poignant and resonant. The animal loving vegetarian delivers the musical goods again.