Back in the late '70s, the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde offered herself as a tough-as-nails female role model and effectively changed the course of punk/new wave going forward into the '80s. Blending the visceral hyperactive crunch of punk, the pop melodicism of new wave and a galloping roots rhythm, Hynde and the Pretenders found a winning commercial and critical equation and rode the wave through 1983's masterful Learning to Crawl and the urban blight of "My City Was Gone." Any of the perceived missteps that followed were merely proof that Hynde was neither interested in repeating herself nor afraid to liberally tinker with the engine of her success, which simply reinforced her image as a strong and committed artist.
In the aftermath of the most vital Pretenders album in years, 2002's reggae-touched Loose Screw, Hynde eschewed the studio in favor of touring, contemplated retirement and opened a vegan restaurant in her native Akron. A number of inspirational moments (a country tribute with Jerry Lee Lewis, a bus ride across America with ZZ Top and the Stray Cats that reinforced the rage that fueled "My City Was Gone," and an epiphany at the spot where Gram Parsons was cremated in 1973, among others) have steered Hynde in an unexpectedly '50s punkabilly/country/roots direction on Break Up the Concrete, her first album of new material in six years.
The album was recorded in a mere 12 days with a band that included longtime bassist Nick Wilkinson, young hotshot guitarist James Walbourne and legendary drummer Jim Keltner, but the chemistry among the foursome is palpable.
Hynde was so enamored of the result of the spontaneous sessions that she left them almost entirely intact - cleared throats, false starts, countdowns and all. In fact, other than shifting the session's laconic first song, "One Thing Never Changed," to the end of the album, the track listing on Break Up the Concrete is the exact order the songs were recorded.
From the four-on-the-floor rave-up of "Boots of Chinese Plastic," "Don't Cut Your Hair" and the title track to the wistful country yearning of "One Thing Never Changed" and "The Nothing Maker," Break Up the Concrete sounds like the stripped-down predecessor to the Pretenders' shivering, shattering 1978 eponymous debut. It's the spark and spirit of that first album, and the strength and clarity of Hynde's creative vision, that meanders beautifully through Break Up the Concrete's coarse but comfortable fabric.
The Pretenders Break Up the Concrete (Shangri-La Music)