The Good: Good lyrics, Excellent voice
The Bad: Often repetitive musically, Standard guitar riffs and drums
The Basics: While mostly musically unimaginative, the collection The Singles by The Pretenders features some amazing lyrics and good singing, but ultimately ends up as nothing superlative.
I've known I liked two songs by The Pretenders in my life, the well-played "I'll Stand By You" and, thanks to my introduction of it on Sports Night (reviewed here!), "Hymn To Her." Unfortunately, The Singles by The Pretenders does not contain "I'll Stand By You." Bummer. Still, I was surprised when I listened to the album I knew more songs by the Pretenders than I had originally thought, songs like "Back On The Chain Gang" and "Brass In Pocket."
On the fortunate side, the sixteen track album is almost an hour long and filled with songs that are, at the very least, listenable. If you read my reviews, you'll know I appreciate discs that make the most out of the compact disc medium by actually using as much of the time on the disc as possible. However, how the album may boast being the essential collection of Pretenders singles and lack its most successful and well known song from the past decade seems questionable. In short; they could have stood to use even more of the medium than they actually did.
The album succeeds in the lyrics and voice of Chrissie Hynde. I'm not sure who to cite for the lyrics; the album contains no credits. Bummer. I suppose the band assumes that if one is picking up this album it is because one is a fan of the Pretenders already. That's a poor logical fallacy as one must ask, "Why would a fan of the group buy this album when they either have all of the singles or all of the albums the group put out?" This is basically a "best of" album and the disappointing aspect of it is that outside the occasional lyric and the moments when Hynde uses her voice well, there's not much to recommend the album.
So, it's well lyriced and well sung. And part of that is disappointing as well; two of the tracks are cover songs, so they aren't even written by the group. Add to that, both covers lack any original interpretation of the songs they are singing.
What doesn't work is the actual music. While some of it is original and different ("Brass In Pocket" has an atypical beat that works quite well, for instance), I suppose, just about every song on the album sounds like at least one other song on the album. The drums never seem to differ much and in the end all of the beats, save those on "Brass In Pocket" come out sounding a lot like "Back On The Chain Gang." As well, the guitars never vary far from the early tracks, which is why "Talk Of The Town" and "Back On The Chain Gang" have such similar twangs to them. It is as if the band grew in terms of emotional and poetic depth in the writing, but failed to learn anything new instrumentally. This makes getting to and appreciating the end somewhat more difficult than with most albums, especially "best of" works.
Also disappointing is the final track, a cover of "I've Got You Babe," featuring UB40 with Hynde doing the female vocal. It adds nothing to the song, it's uninspired and it feels added, like the producer of the album said, "We haven't given them their money's worth yet." So, they tacked on the extra track.
While there are some lyrical disappointments, like the opening track "Stop Your Sobbing," no song is as weak as "I've Got You Babe." The strongest link is "Hymn To Her" which is a beautifully sung, well-written song that is passionate and original. Otherwise, I'd suggest rocking to the Pretenders when you hear them on the radio, but not invest in this album. If you want a decent "Best of" album that focuses on the quality of the singles of a group you like, that gives you your money's worth, try U2's. Or if female rockers are your thing, there's always one of Heather Nova's live albums.
For other "best of" albums, check out:
Rare, Live And Classic - Joan Baez
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire
Carry It On - Peter, Paul And Mary
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© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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