CD Review of Pretenders II by The Pretenders

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Pretenders II
starstarstarstarstar Label: Sire/Rhino
Released: 2006
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I have become progressively more cynical when it comes to re-releases and special editions. Record companies release these ‘new’ versions of records all the time with virtually no differences from the original releases, duping fans into thinking they are necessary purchases. The Aerosmith Chronicles packaging of Pump, Permanent Vacation and Get a Grip is a perfect example. It was simply a box set of those three releases with nothing – absolutely nothing – new added to it. Why the hell would I buy that if I all ready have those three records? Fortunately, Sire got this one right. This repackaging includes the original album, a bonus disc with 18 previously unreleased songs, including 15 live tracks from a 1981 concert, and some fabulously informative liner notes. These new notations concisely review the Pretenders genesis, give you a feel for how they ascended to the head of the rock class in two years and how influential they remain today (with Shirley Manson of Garbage and the Kings of Leon listed as being enormously influenced by Chrissie and the boys).

Pretenders II is a continuation of the brilliance of The Pretenders and reminds me of the symmetrical relationship between Queen’s A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. The latter records (Pretenders II for the Pretenders and Races for Queen) are not copies of their predecessors, but companion pieces in which the previous record’s sound is referenced, complimented and utilized but the presentation and material evolves ever so slightly. Pretenders II, like The Pretenders, has songs that stick in your memory bank. Even though I have heard “Message of Love” a million times, I won’t mind hearing it another million. It doesn’t wear me out because that raw sound, the guitar riff, and Chrissie’s passion, seep out of the speakers. Hynde’s presentation of herself as a sexual being and sensitive person are splattered all over these two records. The contrast between their Kinks cover “I Go to Sleep” and “The Adultress” is night and day – from vulnerability to icy cold and calculated.

The live stuff is electric. Listening to the opening riffs of “The Wait” and the rest of the guitar work offered by James Honeyman-Scott on the opening track of Disc Two is breathtaking. Eight of the 15 live tracks are culled from Pretenders II, but the first album is represented by the aforementioned song as well as “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Private Life,” “Kid,” “Brass in Pocket” and “Up the Neck.”The final live track is a chaotic cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” featuring a horn section from the opening band on the tour (the Bureau, which according to the notes featured former members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners). This is an excellent re-issue and well worth the investment.

~R. David Smola