Scrunchies and acid-washed jean jackets aren’t the only trends from the ’80s that are making their way back into pop culture relevancy. The Pretenders, a rock band that originated in the late ’80s, have just released their newest album, Alone, and it’s a surprisingly prime example of why throwbacks can sometimes work.
This album’s main strength comes from the fact that lead singer and main songwriter Chrissie Hynde breathed new life into an old label. Through a synergy of messy guitar chords and subtle hints of electronic influences, Alone turns your life into an afterschool special, and while not every song on this album upholds the same level of quality, they all serve to remind the listener that New Wave punk rock can still hold its own in today’s music world.
Alone commences on the titular opening track, “Alone,” which wastes no time in demonstrating that the Pretenders are back and have lost none of their charm. This song is a strange conglomeration of vocals that are half speaking/half singing with upbeat, popping harmonies. “Alone” is simultaneously both the rose and the thorns, with “absolutely fuck off” over a light background of jangling rhythms. Charming in the way it couldn’t seem to care less about your opinion, “Alone” is the perfect introduction to other songs in this album. It paves the road to songs such as “Roadie Man” and “Gotta Wait,” with reminders that the Pretenders will still be cooler than you, no matter what year it is.
“Roadie Man” appears to draw influences from singers like Norah Jones. It inspires a Sunday morning mood through Hynde’s silver-tongued crooning over slow and steady background melodies. This song’s honey-smooth finish directly contrasts “Gotta Wait,” which features choppy guitar notes and a driving beat. Yet, despite this divergence, these songs are constant in the fact that they showcase the very best of what the Pretenders can do with their well-developed sound. Songs like “Alone,” Roadie Man” and “Gotta Wait” from Alone are very reminiscent of older songs like “Message of Love” or “Brass in Pocket.” They show that even after almost 40 years, Hynde still manages to uphold the mellow, buoyant vibes that were so iconic in the ’80s.
However, as with any blast from the past, there runs a risk of over-sentimentality. Some songs in Alone are drawn-out and excessive. For example, “Blue Eyed Sky” starts out with the clichéd “no one understands me” and only gets worse from there. It seems to be constantly reaching for something that isn’t there, which makes the song come across as empty instead of nonchalantly casual.
The same issue is repeated in “I Hate Myself.” By the third repetition of “I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself,” you already want the song to be over and by the sixth repetition the idea of repeatedly banging your head against the nearest table is looking more and more appealing. This unwarranted, drawn out sappiness continues in “Death Is Not Enough,” complete with over-done comparisons and an achingly slow beat.
Alone starts out as a strong example of the immortality of New Wave rock but then slowly dissolves into a directionless, maudlin jumble of empty songs. Only the final song, “Holy Commotion,” redeemed the album’s end. Rousing and rejuvenating, with a snazzy electronic keyboard in the background providing a unique twist, “Holy Commotion” is a blend of the old and the new: Hynde’s timeless voice carrying remnants of where the Pretenders came from while the disjointed, complex composition of the song itself carrying an omen of where the Pretenders can go in the future.
Alone is a revival of an old brand. The Pretenders’ old rhythms, tunes and harmonies have been recycled and upgraded, creating an unexpected blend of nostalgia and intrigue that works for a majority of the album. What the Pretenders should be wary about is becoming stuck in the past and subsequently creating songs that lose originality in their repetitive templates and saccharine sound. However, despite these difficulties encountered in Alone, it is, overall, a strong album. Neil Young was right; rock ‘n’ roll will never die, and if all its revivals come in the form of Alone, that isn’t really something to complain about.