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The Pretenders

Perhaps more than any other band, The Pretenders epitomized the exciting musical climate of the early 1980s. The group represented a powerful fusion of the most important musical ideas of the time, from the off-kilter new wave whimsy of Devo and The Cars to the hard-edged, autobiographical street poetry of Patti Smith to the straight-ahead politicized aggression of the London punk scene to the passionate, idiosyncratic rock and roll aesthetic of Elvis Costello. But unlike so many other essential groups of that era, The Pretenders avoided becoming casualties of their own success, in large part due to the boundless charisma and indomitable spirit of their one-of-a-kind frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde.

A Midwest transplant living in London, Hynde founded the group in the late '70s with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers. The quartet quickly discovered the paradigmatic sound they captured on their first two albums, Pretenders and Pretenders II, which immediately became essential recordings of the early '80s pop canon. This incarnation of the band was tragically brief, as Farndon and Honeyman-Scott both died of drug overdoses within two years of the second album's release. Despite these losses and a tumultuous personal life that featured relationships with The Kinks' Ray Davies and Simple Minds' Jim Kerr, Hynde managed to keep The Pretenders together, assembling a new crew to record 1984's Learning to Crawl, an solid, mature update on the hard rocking new wave aesthetic of the first two albums.

Hynde kept the Pretenders brand vital throughout the rest of the '80s and the '90s, putting out bracing, nervy rock albums every few years with a rotating supporting cast that typically included drummer Chambers, while also becoming well known for her commitment to a variety of social causes, including PETA. The Pretenders' 2002 album Loose Screw proves that even since entering her 50s, Hynde has retained her tough, youthful edge. As with any Pretenders album, Loose Screw is dominated by Hynde's throaty, playful contralto and the group's tight, lean rock structures. The Pretenders' experiments with light reggae rhythms, which cropped up periodically in their late '80s work, are very much in evidence throughout this album, giving the material a pleasantly swaying island flavor that softens their typically driving hard rock. It's a solid and satisfying effort from one of the foremost rock and roll auteurs of the last quarter century.

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