1984, Music

Learning to Crawl (1984) by Pretenders

I never liked Chrissie Hynde. I don’t know why I didn’t like her when I was young – maybe I just didn’t have an opinion and don’t remember – but I know why I didn’t like her as an adult: I watched her and Morrissey shit on prog rock in New York Doll while I asked them, what exactly have they done that’s so important? (You’re going to say the Smiths. Let’s agree to disagree.) I am fascinated/frustrated by people who celebrate music that is so much more risque/revolutionary than the music they make. Hynde acts like she was a punk – she’ll tell you she was in some punk bands in England in the late ’70s – but she makes music that is somewhere between jangle pop and a pale imitation of new wave. (“I’m so hip I make middle of the road rock music!”) If she wants to be taken seriously she should have made music that did for the ’80s what the Dolls did for the ’70s. That’s why I don’t like her, or the media image of her or what have you.

But this is the second Pretenders record I’ve heard and I must admit she’s a pretty decent songwriter. She has a pretty good sense of melody and I genuinely like her lyrics (particularly “Time the Avenger” and “My City Was Gone”). If I could separate what I’ve heard her say in interviews and her sneer from these songs, I might like them even more.

The performances are not going to change your life. As I said, this is “new wave” in only the broadest definition – music made with a little more energy and attitude (barely) than the pop rock of the ’70s with just the teeniest hint of artsy quirk you get in actual new wave (be it American or British, which is noticeably less quirky). It’s much closer to jangle pop and it’s a far slicker version of jangle pop than most of the jangle pop than emerged in the US and New Zealand at the same time. (I might be leaving out some scenes.) It sounds ’80s because of the slick production.

But it’s well done. The production isn’t over done. The songs are good, as I said. It’s a good record. And I say that having not wanted to like it.


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