BY ADRIAN SILVAS
Chrissie Hynde made a reputation championing a certain kind of vulnerability that most of us don’t approach. Her stiff upper lip attitude was never used as a shield against expressing emotions, but rather a way to lay it all out without seeming like she needed anyone else. With the Pretenders last album Hate For Sale following the blueprint of their pop-punk new wave sound, the band’s 12th studio album Relentless throws this attitude out the window and feels almost like a breath of fresh air. This album demonstrates their ability to diversify their sound and reminds us why they are a paramount figure in the underground rock scene.
The album begins with the track “Losing My Sense of Taste,” which opens with aggressive, hypnotizing guitar playing by James Walborne. Hynde’s voice then materializes and details that a change is coming within herself when she sings, “I must be going through a metamorphosis.” Much of the track deals with her view of the world changing, or rather the world changing around her.
The beginning songs on the album maintain their signature Pretenders sound. Tasty guitar licks echo throughout the room; a baseline provided by Chris Hill and David Page that gently picks at every open space, and also a drum tapping by Kris Sonne that never overpowers the rest of the band. “A Love” wishes and holds onto hope that the love one dreams of is still out there and cannot be ruined by reality. “Domestic Silence” contains some rough, electric, bluesy guitar playing behind the backdrop of the message that comfortability strangles and scares the hell out of our narrator.
Relentless begins to expose itself with “The Copa,” where Hynde teases us with a fond memory of a time and place that may have brought her peace at one point. The track gives the feeling of a tranquil dream, with all of the members of the band playing low and light, like they’re on a lazy vacation. Although the details of this memory are blurred and hidden, it is without question that this is a memory that warms Hynde’s soul.
She wears her heart on her sleeve once we get to the halfway point of the album. The Pretenders enter a territory that isn’t necessarily foreign but is not always associated with their image and style. The next couple of songs are up and down in terms of sound. In “Promise Of Love,” the instrumentation is stripped down, with piano playing by Carwyn Ellis and snapping filling most of the melody, while the singing is low and haunting.
“Let The Sun Come In” brings us back into the Pretenders world, with those classic, sporadic guitar riffs from their heyday. Hynde is more playful than the previous tracks, but the personal subjects are still present. The recent tunes explore looking at someone through rose tinted glasses until they break them. It describes a love going so sour it feels as if the person actually died as a result of the breakup, and the lies others tell us of what life will be.
Relentless is layered in a way that gives us the rock we want and forces us to slow down and keep a steady pace with heart-wrenching ballads. “Your House Is On Fire” could be used a prime example of what this album is trying to convey. Hynde tells the tale of a burning house perhaps due in part of her own mistakes. The lyrics detail the narrator acting as a “victim” and all of a sudden everyone in the world is against them.
Although there is some vitriol towards an unnamed lover that has done her wrong, in these songs she admits that she has sinned herself. The album gives us many lives over again and even pushes us to reexamine what has been done to us and what we have done to others.
There is a track in Relentless that summarizes the tears wept throughout the album. “I Think About You Daily” is all of the self-arguing and guilt finally finding peace and solace. With a string arrangement put together by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, one can’t help but feel this is the water needed to put the house on fire out. Melodic violins and gentle piano-playing take us to where Hynde has been and where she stays grounded. The song recounts love as matter and anti-matter. She still has so much love to give and some of it may be left in the past but she has to hold on because it gives her happiness, has taught her enough, and made her stronger despite the pain.
Pretenders have always been like a lollipop with a razor in it. The music can be sweet, sour, and satisfying while the lyrics cut deep when you get to its core. With Hynde being the last founding member on Relentless, it is safe to say that she is now running the show with her own direction in mind. She points to a star in the sky and the rest of us follow in line. This album is without a doubt a memoir and an exercise in reflection, absolution, and acceptance. Finding peace in oneself is a struggle enough but with the help of some artform at your helm, it does make the process much more bearable. In an interview regarding the album Hynde states, “But it’s the life of the artist. You never retire. You become relentless.”