First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Wed August 1, 2007, 05:30 AM CDT
For all of the turmoil that greeted its early years, the Pretenders still managed to churn out two stellar outings: its self-titled debut and Learning to Crawl. Pretenders II, the endeavor that came in between them, also had its moments, even if they were redundant. By 1986, however, the Pretenders was a mess. Arguably, it wasnít much of a band anymore either. While the losses of Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott had provided plenty of fodder and momentum to Learning to Crawl, front gal Chrissie Hynde now was faced with having to figure out how best to proceed. Considering the confusing and abrupt mood swings that are contained within the groupís fourth, full-length endeavor Get Close, itís obvious that she was grasping at straws.
Early in the process of recording Get Close, Hynde fired both drummer Martin Chambers ó the only other founding member that remained ó and bass player Malcolm Foster, replacing them with Blair Cunningham and T.M. Stevens, respectively. The biggest difference between Get Close and its predecessors, however, came not from the personnel that were used, but rather from Hyndeís choice of producers. Tapping Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain to bring her vision to fruition, Hynde softened her sound, thus completely severing her ties to the Pretendersí past. With an array of session musicians in tow ó including Indian violist L. Shankar, bass player Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello), and guitarist Carlos Alomar (David Bowie) ó Hynde, Iovine, and Clearmountain, concocted a collection of arena-ready rock that was polished until it glistened.
Although all of the arrangements on the outing lack teeth, Get Close falters most during its opening procession of songs. Hyndeís insecurities creep through My Baby, but where in the past she would have wrapped her self-doubts within a shroud of street-girl toughness, she now relies on the gimmick of using studio trickery to surround herself with adoration and applause. Considering the manner in which she had exerted her control over the Pretenders, itís a telling gesture. Elsewhere, her cover of Alomarís Light of the Moon feels like it was plucked from the midst of a Madonna album, and Dance!, her bilious attack on then-President Ronald Reagan, is made impotent by its dreadfully generic funk groove.
All of Get Closeís highlights come during its latter half, if only because Hynde seems to stop fighting so hard against the things that truly work. Beneath the surface of its dated, í80s glossiness, Donít Get Me Wrong is a Motown-style gem in the spirit of You Canít Hurry Love, and couched within a Caribbean rhythm, I Remember You is a bittersweet reflection upon a love affair that has ended. Chill Factor details the repercussions of divorce, while Meg Keeneís Hymn to Her is another in a long line of songs through which Hynde has examined the roles of women in western society. Tucked in the midst of it all, How Much Did You Get for Your Soul? recasts David Bowieís Fame as a scathing indictment of artists who sell themselves to the advertising industry. Still, itís apparent that Hynde wasnít quite sure how to redirect her energy, and even her cover of Jimi Hendrixís Room Full of Mirrors ó the only track on the endeavor that features Foster and Chambers ó struggles to escape from its oversized, studio sparkle.
The bonus tracks that are affixed to the remastered rendition of Get Close suggest that it could have been a better album. The initial take of Dance packs a greater punch, and the alternate rendition of Hold a Candle to This, a song that eventually turned up on 1990ís Packed!, was filled with the kind of edgy angst that Get Close was missing. Granted, Hynde wasnít nearly as feisty as she was on the Pretendersí earlier works, but the B-side World Within Worlds and the two live cuts (Donít Get Me Wrong and Thumbelina) provide further proof that she hadnít lost her passion for performing; she just needed to figure out who she was in her new roles as a wife, a mother, and a bandleader.
Get Close is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box