Sunday, June 08, 2014

Kat's Korner: Chrissie Hynde rocks out

Kat: Patti Smith is the poet who imposed rock on her work while Chrissie Hynde is the rocker who has often landed in the field of poetry due to writing a careful turn of phrase or to finding a special nugget in a cover, for example her version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

As singer, rhythm guitarist, front person and main songwriter of the rock group Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde can claim credit for such seminal rock 80s and 90s moments as "Brass In Pocket," "Middle of the Road," "I'll Stand By You," "Back On The Chain Gang," "2000 Miles," "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Message of Love," "Show Me," "My Baby," "Never Do That," "Sense of Purpose" and so much more.  The band was Chrissie, Martin Chambers on drums, James Honeyman-Scott on guitar and Pete Farndon on bass.  They were that for the first two albums only. Honeyman-Scott died in 1982, Farndon in 1983.  Chambers is in and out over the years leaving Chrissie the band's only consistent link.

For her latest recording, Chrissie's a solo.  This isn't the first time Chrissie Hynde's had the billing and not "Pretenders."  She teamed with UB40 to cover the Sonny & Cher classic "I Got You Babe" -- which they'd take to number one on the British charts and top thirty on the US charts.  The success would lead Chrissie and UB40 to reteam for "Breakfast In Bed" which would go to number six on the British charts.  She'd record "Luck Be A Lady" as a duet with Frank Sinatra for his Duets II album.  Then she teamed with Cher, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton  for "Love Can Build A Bridge" which would top the British charts.  And that's just some of her studio solo work.

But Stockholm, which drops Tuesday, is her first solo album.

It's also some sort of pinata for certain critics.

Chrissie's not perfect.  Any Pretenders fan knows that.  I don't think the band's produced anything worth hearing since the 90s.  I hated 2008's Break Up The Concrete. But Stockholm is the finest recording Chrissie's done since Pretenders' Isle of View.

Reviews are also subjective.  So I do try to see a point to some of the crap flung at Chrissie in the last week; however, all I see is sexism.

David Bauder (AP) whines, "It hurts to hear rock's toughest chic spouting cliches or singing 'Look at me, I'm laughing like a child, and it's all because you're the one'."  What's a matter Dave, you can't hump your lonely mattress the way you used to listening to Chrissie sing "Bad Boys Get Spanked"?

"This isn't going to end like in the movies," Chrissie sings on "Like In The Movies" and maybe it was her own little private message to all the Bad Boys needing spanked?

For reasons that have to do with sexism, Chrissie's being slammed for being a 70-year-old rocker.  When I read that, I thought, "I didn't know she was 70."

She's not.

She's 62.

And the same people slamming her for being '70' can't stop praising her male contemporaries.

While they fret over her age or that she's gone soft in bed, Chrissie Hynde's created something that stands with the best of Pretenders' albums.

If U2 released this album, there would be hosannas, church bells would ring, white smoke would pour out of the Sistine Chapel and Dave Marsh would be rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues.  In fact, many a male rock legend has been praised for doing much less.  I'm not just talking about George Harrison whose Cloud Nine tried to capture a fun vibe but failed to carry it off for the full album. No, I'm talking about the crap Bruce Springsteen's churned out -- tales of a robber in diapers and all the other nonsense.

Chrissie's album is a fun album.

Is that really shocking?

At their best, Pretenders were a garage band.

On the solo album, she kicks things off with "You Or No One" which sounds like a Belinda Carlisle summer song with the Byrds providing the music and Phil Spector producing. It's a juke box spinning one perfect summer song after another.

Part of the fun is picking out the influences.

For example, I hear strains of both The Troggs and The Pharaohs in the production of "A Plan Too Far."  I hear the playfulness of the Mamas and the Papas' Deliver merged with the experimentation of the group's The Papas and the Mamas on "Tourniquet (Cynthia Ann)."  I hear the hard pop of Vanilla Fudge on "Sweet Nuthin"  and the 80s feel of Eurythmics on "You're The One" (think "Missionary Man" and "Would I Lie To You?").

"I've become what I criticized," she sings in "Down The Wrong Way" which has a lot of Neil Young notes -- because Neil Young's playing on the track.

The first single was "Dark Sunglasses" and it created excitement that Stockholm more than lives up to.

And when the night starts falling
Even the stars are calling
And spelling out your name

That's from "You Or No One."  Chrissie wrote the song with Bjorn Yttling, she co-wrote all 11 tracks with him.  He's in the group Peter Bjorn and John and he produced the album.

And Chrissie produced the notes.  Her one of a kind voice which can hurl like a rock or cushion like the softest bed pillow is still doing amazing things.  "In A Miracle" finds her singing:

If you can't understand
Why a picture that's made out of cloud
Dissolves when it rains
Then try saying I love you out loud
Then try saying I love you out loud.

And she makes it work.  As she does when she lets her voice soar on, for example, "House of Cards," it's a special kind of heaven brought down to earth.

Stockholm is a brave and vibrant album, a summer odyssey perfect for days at the beach or lake and for cruising.  Chrissie Hynde has rediscovered her muse.