The Music Box's #4 reissue of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
After storming out of the gate with its self-titled debut, the Pretenders did what nearly every successful band does with its sophomore effort: It climbed down from its lofty perch and opted, instead, to play it safe. Part of the problem undoubtedly was due to the fact that the group was in turmoil because its members had fallen prey to the excesses of their rock ’n‘ roll lifestyles. Tellingly, in June 1982, less than a year after the release of Pretenders II, bass player Pete Farndon was ousted from the ensemble over issues arising from his abuse of drugs, and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott overdosed just two days later. Meanwhile, front woman Chrissie Hynde was in the midst of an affair with Ray Davies, and she became pregnant with his child.
Of course, the expectations for the Pretenders’ second album were enormous, and there was considerable pressure weighing upon the outfit to concoct an outing that was as magnanimous as its eponymous effort. Even without the distractions, such a feat likely would have been impossible to achieve. So, the band did the only thing it could do. It forced the issue and tried to recreate the magic of its initial foray. Art, however, isn’t easily replicated, and in applying a virtually identical formula to Pretenders II — right down to the inclusion of a Davies-penned tune — the group completely lost sight of the unbridled enthusiasm and swagging attitude that had made its self-titled debut so good.
Not surprisingly, Pretenders II lacked the sonic punch of its predecessor, while Hynde’s lyrics failed to achieve the same resonance. It wasn’t that the shock factor of her ruminations had worn off, either. Rather, it was her more direct approach, which lessened the danger that was inherent in her words. The provocative nature of Tattooed Love Boys, for example, gave way to the blatant sexual hijinks of Bad Boys Get Spanked, while the more confessional yearning of The Adultress (as well as quite a few of the other cuts on the set) served only to muddy the rebellious and defiant aura that had come to settle around the ensemble. Although the endeavor was hardly forgettable, only the shimmering, ’60s-imbued pop of Talk of the Town and the horn-splattered, punk-driven soul of Louie Louie compared favorably with the material on the Pretenders’ debut.
Nevertheless, the 15 live cuts contained on the two-disc deluxe edition of Pretenders II make it abundantly apparent that the songs weren’t really the problem. It was the band’s delivery that considerably undermined the outing. In concert, the Pretenders’ material was far more forceful, which effectively mitigated the inferiority of its new compositions. Although the tunes from the group’s debut still boasted a more visceral attack, Honeyman-Scott’s electric guitar combined with the propulsive drive that sprang from the rhythm section of Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers succeeded in putting a charge into The Adultress, Day after Day, and The English Roses. It was on stage that the Pretenders made its atmospheric excursions emotionally palpable as it captured the blend of texture and toughness that had remained elusive in the recording studio.
Pretenders II [Deluxe Edition] —
Bonus Materials —
Pretenders II [Original Album] — ˝
Pretenders II is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box