Chrissie Hynde's mesmerizing androgyny shines through on this astutely chosen four-CD, one-DVD boxed set. Besides the hits that made her and her mutable band of British boys a hard-rock household word, Pirate Radio features 15 previously unreleased tracks, including a super-punky demo of "Precious," a rough original, "Tequila" (which suggests that the Pretenders are due for a country album), covers of Merrilee Rush's "Angel of the Morning" and Radiohead's "Creep," and startlingly aggressive live tracks from as recently as 2003.
Since the first singles ("Kid," "Brass in Pocket," "Stop Your Sobbing"), Hynde has delivered aggressively feminist music. Her slashing rhythm guitar and broad vibrato define the Pretenders, no matter the genre. She's pointed, even when she's tender; the early, previously unreleased rocker "Watching the Clothes" is fundamentally gentle, and the rueful "My City Was Gone" is as much a love song to dying cities as Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" was in the more innocent '60s.
Frequent lineup changes aside (Martin Chambers, second only to the Stones' Charlie Watts in his blend of swing and authority, remains her closest associate), the band's consistent purpose, originality, and intelligence come through beautifully, from "Talk of the Town" to such overlooked late-career tracks as "Complex Person." Drawing evenly from across Hynde's career, the set includes comprehensive notes and some track-by-track comments by Hynde. The DVD spans 19 songs, with performances going back as far as 1979.