Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tapes, Part 2

Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain on the credits should tell you what you need to know about Get Close, The Pretenders' one bald attempt at chart success, 1986 style: swollen drums, keyboards filling every corner where "Higher Love" backup vocals don't go, and guitar parts punched on a Casio's "shred" program, of course, but also the blurred generalizations of stadium rock. Coincidence doesn't explain why "My Baby" ends with recorded audience fanfare – that's the crowd to whom Hynde's band directs its songs. Still, from the album title on down Hynde always means what she says, and if stadium-rock was how pop stars in 1986 understood outreach she did her damnedest to signify as a person. To this day, she's never sung so beguilingly; this album epitomizes the concept of vocalist transcending material. "Message of Love" doesn't trip over its "Within You Without You" bullshit because Hynde extends an Indian melody way beyond the point at which George Harrison would have sprayed his larynx over the neck of his sitar. Ditto "Don't Get Me Wrong," in which Hynde signals her submission to True Love with vocal pixie embellishments. To say it's cute would risk Hynde kicking me in the shins. Detractors who wish she'd stuck with tattooed love boys will find plenty to gripe with here: "How Much Did You Get For Your Soul?" attacks Michael Jackson for his naked consumerism while the backing track wheezes like 1985-era Starship. She saves her aces for the conclusion. "Hymn To Her" eroticizes sisterly companionship, and "Chill Factor,"over rolling soul organ, blasts Jim Kerr for turning their kids against her; the longest held note of her career mitigates the self-pity.

I didn't hear Pretenders until the summer of 1994, and it startled me. Depending on my mood, I might admit that it's my favorite album. The hairpin chord changes and thundering rhythm don't disguise how filthy it sounds; this album doesn't just stink of sex, it wallows in it (I learned more from Pretenders than I did in school). Just as I became aware of realpolitik in relationships, Hynde and her cohorts wrote about how lust turns to anger and how "you" shoot your mouth off while showing her what that hole is for. When she asks, "Where's my sandy beach?" in "Mystery Achievement," she's not clinging to a fantasy, she's wondering why, after all the tattooed love boys she's fucked, she ever believed the fantasy in the first place. So Get Close is a redress of sorts: the "maturity" Hynde copped to in 1986 demanded self-flagellation on drum risers.

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