The Pretenders, "Alone" (BMG)
Chrissie Hynde reverts to her Pretenders moniker on "Alone," a soulful production helmed by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and starring her tough-as-nails vulnerability.
Hynde's wonderful voice, one of the rock's best, can weaken knees even by reading a phonebook. While the album sports all kinds of modern-retro sounds, her vocals propel the fast ones and elevate the ballads with her usual empathy and authority.
Opening with the declarative title track, which has a piano riff with shades of Allen Toussaint's "Fortune Teller," Hynde immediately clears the room — "I'm at my best, I'm where I belong, alone." That could bear bad tidings for what is supposed to be the band's first effort since the dynamic "Break Up the Concrete" in 2008, but she doesn't sound at all isolated.
Instead she gets is feistily involved in fellow Akron, Ohio, native Auerbach's quirky production, which echoes a long list of rock and R&B idols, from Doug Sahm's Tex-Mex organ to T. Rex and even Duane "Twangy Guitar" Eddy himself on "Never Be Together."
"Roadie Man" is another moaning complaint by the long-suffering wife from "Watching the Clothes" and first single "Holy Commotion" has some jungle drums and whirling sounds of steel pans. "Chord Lord" is probably closest to Pretenders from 30-odd years ago, while "I Hate Myself" would suit Lou Reed or a certain controversial Nobel Prize winner.
There may not be towering classics on "Alone," but it's a rewarding listen if you accept — and you'll feel better if you do — that these are not your parents' Pretenders or even those from a few years ago. But, oh, that Hynde vibrato!