The title of the first Pretenders album since 2008 is something of a misleading one. Chrissie Hynde is, in effect, the sole surviving member of the iconic post-punk band, following the deaths of founder members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon (drummer Martin Chambers is still touring with Hynde, but isn’t listed in the credits for this album). Yet she’s not alone for their 10th studio album, having teamed up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys who produces and plays on the record.
It makes for a slightly uneven album at times – although Hynde’s unmistakably smokey drawl mean that the Pretenders brand never feels out of place, Auerbach’s session band produces his trademark swampy blues rock so it feels sometimes like a Black Keys album with Hynde on vocals. At times, it works very well: the exhilarating Gotta Wait rolls back the years, and Holy Commotion (relegated, somewhat bizarrely, to ‘bonus track’ status) fizzles with energy and attitude.
It’s that attitude that marks out the best moments of Alone. The excellent title track kicks things off with Hynde spitting out lyrics that celebrate singledom and solitude, sounding oddly like Lou Reed at times as she sings about going to see movies on her own and being able to do what she wants whenever she wants as Auerbach’s session band cooks up a storm around her. “I like being alone…what you going to do about it? Absolutely fuck all” runs the closing lines, and it would be a brave person who’d disagree. It’s an opener that really whets the appetite for what’s to come.
Sadly though, there’s a fair degree of uninspiring tracks that weigh the album down somewhat. Roadie Man plods along, with Hynde unconvincingly playing the role of a pining wife at home waiting for her roadie husband to come home, while tracks like Blue Eyed Sky and One More Day try to relive former glories but just sound like pale imitations instead.
Hynde and Auerbach fare better on the darker tracks – I Hate Myself is as self-lacerating as the title would suggest, a ballad of self-loathing about all the things Hynde hates about herself. As you’d expect, there’s a morbid sense of humour lurking under the surface (“if on judgement day, I’m told to make my way to take a blasting residence downstairs…”) which saves it all from becoming too depressing. Even better is the soulful slow-dance of Let’s Get Lost, one of the songs where Hynde drops the tough attitude and her vulnerability shines through – it’s a genuinely affecting track.
Never Be Together is another highlight, if only for the appearance of Duane Eddy‘s trademark twangy guitar (also a nice reminder that there’s at least one musical icon who’s still alive in 2016), and Death Is Not Enough recalls the anthemic sway of some of the classic Hynde ballads like I’ll Stand By You or Hymn To Her. There’s nothing on Alone that could stand shoulder by shoulder to the band’s genuine classics, but perhaps there doesn’t need to be. At 65, Hynde has proved all she has to, and at this stage, it’s enough to hear that marvellous voice sneering its way through some new songs.