TERRY GROSS, host:
The band the Pretenders has released its ninth studio album, "Break Up The Concrete." This time around, the band's founder, Chrissie Hynde, has surrounded herself with an entirely new group of Pretenders. Hynde is now in her mid-50s. And rock critic Ken Tucker says she's one of a number of middle aged rockers who've released vital new albums.
(Soundbite of song "Break Up The Concrete")
Ms. CHRISSIE HYNDE (Singer): (Singing) There was a red brick road where I grew up on. And a pretty stone wall round a fragrant lawn. Fish in the pond that sparkled in the dawn. But it ain't no more, it's all gone, gone, gone. Whoa! Ram it! Cram it! Grand Slam it! Break up the concrete. Prod it! Sod it! Metal Rod it! Break up the concrete. Thwak it! Crack it! Lineback it! Break up the concrete. Shake it! Bake it! Earthquake it! Break up the concrete. Break up the concrete. Break up the concrete.
KEN TUCKER: I'm not saying 50 is the new 20, but I'll put new releases by Lindsey Buckingham, Jackson Brown, and in particular Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders ahead of many other current recordings. Buckingham's new collection, "Gift of Screws," finds the former Fleetwood Mac man continuing his mostly one-man band experiments in a manner that, remarkable for an artist working in virtual isolation, is free of self-absorption and full of curiosity about the current world. Jackson Brown's "Time the Conqueror" isn't afraid to echo his greatest '70s album, "The Pretender," because he knows that sound yields his most heart-felt and hard-headed inspiration. And as for Chrissie Hynde, well, she's gathered up a new batch of Pretenders and wants you to know that she's still up for some adventure, some anger, and some lust.
(Soundbite of song, "Boots Of Chinese Plastic")
Ms. HYNDE: (Singing) Nam Myoho Renge Kyo Buddha please. Can you help a little peasant that's begging on her knees. Illusion fills my head like an empty can, spent a million lifetimes loving the same man. Whoa! Every drop that run through the vein, always makes its way back to the heart again. And by the way you look fantastic in your boots of Chinese plastic.
TUCKER: Chrissie Hynde, who spent much of her recent time living in Europe, returned to her native Akron, Ohio to both open a Vegan restaurant and record her new album in less than two weeks. With new Pretenders, including the great drummer Jim Keltner, "Break Up The Concrete" has the forward momentum of music that needed to be made, melodies and sentiments that Hynde sounds eager to get out into the world.
She draws upon everything from Rockabilly to Bob Dylan as she did on the track I just played, "Boots of Chinese Plastic." And she's reached back to electric blues for one of the album's standout tracks, an aching shoutout called "Rosalee."
(Soundbite of song "Rosalee")
Ms. HYNDE: (Singing) Rosalee. Where you been so long? Rosalee, Rosalee. Where you been so long? When you smile at me, all the lights come on.
TUCKER: As that song proves, Hynde's remarkable voice is in great shape, morphing from a whale to a howl, only to slither into an intimate, confiding croon. One of my favorite songs here is the sinuous equivalent of a lowdown B movie, called "Almost Perfect." Deep into the song, she sings, unemployable, illegal, you're a whole film by Don Siegel. And I get the feeling she's thinking more of "The Killers" or "Coogan's Bluff" than of that director's "Dirty Harry."
(Soundbite of song, "Almost Perfect")
Ms. HYNDE: (Singing) Narcissistic, anorexic, so unstuck but so pretty. I love you. (unintelligible) lots of every donkey(ph), you're the only truth in this city. Don't ever change. Or change go champing(ph) for some sanity in and then complain. That's good advice. But a lady who has two black eyes is not the best one to advise, she's already been told twice. Don't never change, or I will (unintelligible) will you ever change. Oh, oh, oh. Please don't ever change, you're almost perfect. You're almost perfect. You're almost perfect.
TUCKER: This is an album made by someone who's seen and experienced a lot, but isn't looking back with nostalgia. Every song is about living in the present and using experience as a strength, as a code of behavior, dealing with people, be they lovers or enemies, with an almost ruthless straightforwardness.
The collection's theme isn't as simplistic as honesty is the best policy. Chrissie Hynde is too sly and aware of her own artistic deviousness for that. But the music is an impeccable demonstration of why holing up in a studio and knocking out an unruly album in a matter of days can yield music that just might hold up for years of thrills and chills.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Break Up The Concrete" by The Pretenders.
(Soundbite of acknowledgment)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song "Love's A Mystery")
Ms. HYNDE: (Singing) Lovers of today unlike lovers of the past. They used to find a way to get a love affair to last. I saw him leaving, that's all I had to see. If seeing is believing, then love's a mystery, it's a mystery. It'll rise without a warning, leaving evidence and clues. Making headlines in the morning, then it's history. Love's a mystery. But I'll do it, again. I'll do it, again...