Pretenders I & II
CD Label: Rhino
Some good bands came out of the 80s but few great outfits come rolling off the tip of your tongue with relative ease when discussing that particular decade. It is funny, when I think about the Pretenders I think of the 70s, the only problem is that the band did not exist. They had a classic rock sound with enough grit and punk to fit right into that era so it is easy to envision them in that timeframe. Whatever it is about this band I know one thing, the first time I heard them I loved their sound. I would think most longtime fans hang on to the first two albums as the holy grail of their catalog. And so they should because they were never better.
Once James Honeyman-Scott was gone so went the Pretenders sound into a more straight ahead rock formula. It was good but not the same. This is what separates their first two releases from everything else they have ever done, hence Rhino's choice of reissuing these two great recordings with a truck load of bonus material, the cardboard cases and sleeves to emulate the old LP gatefold format, and in addition to all of that, booklets with some great pictures and fine informative write ups. So when you put it all together it is a great package. I love when CDs come in cardboard packaging, they do not scratch or crack nor require replacement all the time, you just take care of them and store them carefully as if you would collectable vinyl LPs, and there are no worries.
It is debatable which album is the best. I think they are on equal ground, each one has its moments, and they rate five stars in my view. Honeyman-Scott was special and there is no telling how far he would have gone, just like many others before him. The good thing is he left behind some masterful guitar licks on these two classic albums. I liked they way they arranged each CD with the original album cuts then threw in a mixture of demos, outtakes, and live material. It never gets to the point where you are saying-"Why did they put that song on this, it's horrible." Thankfully, we are spared of that nonsense. That never happens and it keeps the band's stellar reputation in place, and actually enhances it with the crackling crisp remastered sound. Welcome to the original Pretenders 2006.
The Pretenders recorded many great tracks and "Brass In Pocket" quickly became their signature song. My favorite is the rocker "Mystery Achievement," with its pounding and thumping rhythm section, Chrissie's vibrato vocals at its very best, and Honeyman-Scott wailing away on lead guitar; it just did not get any better than that. There was the tough as nails "Tattooed Love Boys" and slap-in-the-face reality check of "Precious." It all added up to a band that was already great after their debut album and it came right at the aftermath of the punk wave and just before the age of the synth driven English pop-rock and 'hair' bands that hit it big. So this was excellent timing for the Pretenders, they had one foot in punk and the other in rock, the best of both worlds, and they did it all very well to create their own little niche.
Pretenders 2 picked up where 1 left off by starting with the kick ass "The Adultress." As if to say to their fans-we are back and with some more of what we offered up the first time, just a little more refined but still raw and rockin' from start to finish. "Message of Love" was their answer to "Brass In Pocket." It had all the same catchy hooks and unbridled energy as the tracks from their debut album. I have to say all the bonus material was quite good as well; it served as a true bonus to two incredibly good recordings.
They Pretenders sounded like a hot band in total sync with each other on both albums and this package is a great reminder of that and then some.