The ’80s are always coming back into fashion; whether it’s Taylor Swift‘s pop juggernaut 1989, TV show Stranger Things, or the rise of ’80s mom jeans on Tik Tok. Yet nobody can quite do ’80s rock like The Pretenders. With track titles that seem oddly like a fortune cookie for what 2020 has come to be – Hate For Sale, Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely, Cry In Public – The Pretenders are back, and arguably better than ever. Hate For Sale transports us to when they were anything but pretending to be rock stars. It’s a little capsule of angsty fun, perfect for a year where perpetual angst is all-consuming and anything but.
The title track screeches into action with a false start equal parts ironic and iconic; Turf Account Daddy is classic garage rock down to its very kooky title, the electric guitar punchy whilst Chrissie Hynde’s vocals are perfectly primal; and Junkie Walk is just ridiculously catchy. The Buzz is a dynamic pop departure for the band, with its upbeat tone with tongue-in-cheek subject matter reminiscent of Brass In Pocket mixed with a slice of Kid. The one track that doesn’t quite seem to work is Lightning Man. Its almost reggae beat is interesting, but combined with rather dramatic lyrics, this track would be better off in a musical soundtrack than as part of the band’s extensive discography.
You Can’t Hurt A Fool more than makes up for this lapse, proving that whilst Hynde sounds just as phenomenal as she always has, this is no nostalgic record. With a standout lyric for the entire album – “Too old to know better, too young for her age” – Hynde is unapologetically present in this smooth, soul track. Guitarist James Walbourne, who co-wrote the album with Hynde, drops back to dulcet lines on You Can’t Hurt A Fool, but equally brings gut-wrenching, snappy guitar elsewhere. This collaboration, along with production by the almost mythical Stephen Street, is undoubtedly effective and brings a vibrancy that makes Hate For Sale stand out.
I Didn’t Know When To Stop is an unbridled joy to listen to, with a Middle Of The Road harmonica occasionally infusing a country-blues twang to the stormy guitar. This is The Pretenders at their best: a devil-may-care attitude and Hynde’s ever impressive, raspy vocals singing a delectable hook. If you weren’t convinced this is a track to pay attention to, the abrupt ending, leaving out the titular Stop, leaves you appropriately wanting – The Pretenders don’t just make rock music, they are rock music.
Crying In Public is the album’s finale, and after nearly 25 minutes of pure rock ‘n’ roll (besides Lightning Man) it is a welcome break to have a slow piano ballad. It’s definitely not the best track on the album – it’s a little too on-the nose – but its unsentimental approach is strangely fascinating, whilst Hynde’s characteristic vocal catch of extending out syllables is richly present.
Hate For Sale is surely one of the best albums this legendary band has produced, vivacious in a way that could even rival fan favourite Learning To Crawl. Listening to this record is dancing in a lightning storm after a hot summer’s day – splendidly wicked, refreshing, and just that little bit dangerous.