The Pretenders
Loose Screw
Artemis Records
2002
C+

i’ve been a big Pretenders fan my entire life and, now, with the release of the brand new Loose Screw, my unyielding allegiance has been validated and my patience in waiting for a new Pretenders recording, gratifyingly rewarded.


“Brass in Pocket” became my mantra even before I saw Chrissie Hynde saunter along in the video of the same name in that French maid-type waitress get-up. And for some odd reason, “The Adulteress” just wouldn’t get out my head...possibly had a lot to do with the way her voice vibrated over the line “.....I didn’t wanna be-e-e-e-e-e-e...” The huge hit single, “Back on the Chain Gang” was a wonderfully crafted song and a touching tribute to the late, Pretenders’ guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. And even when the reigning Toughest Chick in Rock n Roll became a sentimental mother and penned the cutesy ode to her daughter, “Show Me”, I remained hooked, and was even all the more hooked on those fierce guitar licks she plied so well in that song --Hynde’s admitted worship at the altar of Keith Richards definitely paid off.


And now, after what feels like a very long hiatus, The Pretenders are back with Loose Screw, their first recorded effort since 1999’s Viva el Amor, and baby, Chrissie is definitely back in grand form!


The songs are immediately accessible, with a classic rock/modern pop delivery that’s every bit as lively and exciting as the very first disc this band released. Tightly written and professionally executed, Loose Screw does the trick. Listening to Chrissie sing in that indelible, identifiable style of the “tough ‘n sexy dame-with ballsy attitude”(which she has perfected to infinite precision), is like meeting up again with a long missed, old friend and finding that nothing has really changed at all -- and if there is any hint of difference, it’s all only for the better.


Loose Screw’s first single, the completely inviting “Complex Person,” toys with light reggae touches and infectious dub cadences. This track establishes a fresh direction for the 20+ year old band, yet faithfully adheres to the basic elements that have always made The Pretenders an such an essential band: direct delivery, competent rhythm (thank the powers-that-be for drummer Martin Chambers!!) and stark, honest expression (“I’m a mixed up, fucked up, singer of a song”). Chrissie’s vocals are sly, tough and passionate throughout, displaying the kind of cocky mixture of self-deprecation and personal pride that only she can pull off successfully.


Incidentally, the original intent was to craft an all-reggae album ( ! ) and while that did not happen, incorporating the contributions of British producer Jonathan Quarmby (of Ziggy Marley and Finley Quaye fame) provides genuine Caribbean sway and motion, taking some of the edge off of these otherwise aggressive rock tracks. This is most notable in the emotionally pleading “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” and in the heavy bass/dub reverie of “Clean Up Woman.”


Staring off with a slightly classical/orchestral intro, “I Should Of” swiftly evolves into a deliberately evocative tune of compelling hooks and driving melodies. In this song, which has a vague groove reminiscent of “Show Me ” Chrissie laments the lost opportunity of love (“hindsight is tough”, she sings, “Oh, fuck, I really miss you”) with a caught-in-the-throat/choking-sob-regret presentation that conveys a mature, self-aware acknowledgement of the consequences in making choices.


“Fools Must Die,” “Time,” “Kinda Nice, I Like It” and the sweeping signature ballad, “The Losing” are such on-target songs, such songs of definable excellence, it’s as if the band’s many years of existence as a determining force in music have simply coalesced into one frozen moment in time, and the former priestess of the UK punk rock scene reigns just as nascent as ever. What’s most remarkable about this, the band’s eighth release overall, is that it all still works. Everything still registers as musically relevant despite the band’s status as veteran rock n roll survivors.


My only complaint is the songs are just too short. Either the band was complacent with what they created, or they just got lazy. At that exact moment when the vibe is totally working and hitting that ultimate peak, the song is already over. But if the only failing with this long-awaited release is that the songs are so good you regret the final chord, then, I guess, I can live with it. It’s simply an awesome thing to witness the 52-year old Ms. Hynde continuing to hold court as the Most Righteous Babe in Rock n Roll (all apologies to Ani DiFranco). To quote Ms. Hynde, this Loose Screw is “kinda nice, I like it.” I like it a lot!


Reviewed by: Roxanne Blanford
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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