Legendary Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde has absolutely nothing to prove here, in the autumn of her career. She’s an iconoclast, a revolutionary, a shining light in recorded music for decades. Her raw, attitudinal take on rock ‘n’ roll led The Pretenders to the top of the charts and ‘album of the year’ lists.
The first Pretenders album is one of the most essential debuts ever – and their first three records contained many of the hits you’ll hear on Sunday afternoon rock radio. Her new album, Valve Bone Woe, is a collection of tracks that would loosely be categorized as ‘orchestral jazz’, with aspects of dub and torch balladry thrown in for good measure. The album is largely a collaborative effort, where she teams up with producers Marius de Vries and Eldad Guetta, as well as journeymen David Hartley, Ian Thomas and Andy Wood.
Hynde opens with a brassy, somewhat faithful take on Nancy Wilson’s 1964 hit How Glad I Am, and it remains one of the highlights of the set. John Coltrane‘s Naima is snapped from its dreamy reverie by strings, while introspective takes on Rodgers and Hammerstein composition Hello Young Lovers (from The King & I), and Nick Drake‘s River Man, offer insight into the tenderness and sincerity at the heart of the project.
Across the rest of the album, there are snatches of bossa nova (her take on The Kinks’ No Return is a revelation), wild synthesizers and dub sound effects (an appetising take on The Beach Boys’ Caroline, No), and a clutch of songs performed by a rogues gallery of legendary musicians, from Nina Simone to Barbra Streisand.
This is a melancholic, leftfield album, with inspiration to spare, but it’s also largely disposable: this won’t replace any of Hynde’s previous albums in your regular rotation, and would only seem significant if she were to pursue this sound on future releases (like, say, Bob Dylan). No matter how classy, considered or stylish the album is, it’s nothing more than a curio, designed for those fans that hang on her every word.