Album Reviews

The Pretenders – Relentless

(Parlophone) UK release date: 15 September 2023

The title of their 12th studio album is appropriate for the sound of a band constantly moving forward and refusing to submit to the dying of the light

The Pretenders - Relentless Chrissie Hynde is arguably one of the few remaining living legends of the punk era, nearly 50 years after she started working in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex clothing store in King’s Road, London. While many of her contemporaries have either died, or become rather cartoonish figures, Hynde has always remained relevant. She’s been the one consistent member of The Pretenders since 1978, and her voice has remained as recognisable as ever way into the 21st century.

Relentless is the 12th studio album from The Pretenders, and it’s clear from the opening chord of the record’s first track, Losing My Sense Of Taste, that none of Hynde’s spark has dimmed at all. Although there’s no sign this time round of on-off drummer Martin Chambers, guitarist James Walbourne collaborates with Hynde on all the tracks, and there’s a swagger and confidence that seems at odds with lyrics like “I must be going through the motions at best”.

Walbourne makes for an excellent foil for Hynde, with almost every track bursting with pyrotechnic guitar riffs and that sense of melody that she’s been so expert at for so many years. The sound often nods back to the classic Pretenders era with A Love jangling away nicely, and The Promise Of Love having the same sort of swoonsome qualities that I Go To Sleep had in spades.

What’s particularly impressive about Relentless is that Hynde and Walbourne aren’t content to rest on their laurels. Merry Widow is a prime example, with some mischievous lyrics from Hynde (“I’m a divorcee, but I feel like a widow… a merry, merry widow”) which becomes a showcase for Walbourne’s impressive guitar skills during the last minute – at some points sounding uncannily like his father-in-law, who happens to be one of the most respected guitarists of his generation, Richard Thompson.

Let The Sun Come In is primarily distracting for sounding like a close cousin of R.E.M.‘s Shiny Happy People at first, but it soon settles into a driving, summery slice of radio-friendly rock, while Vainglorious is magnificently snotty and surly, bursting with fiery riffs and lyrics like “gather round you humble bums… raise a glass, say ‘Iechyd da’, ‘to your health’ blah blah blah”.

The more downtempo moments on Relentless also work equally well. Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood adds some swirling strings to the closing I Think About You Daily and the results are quite beautiful, and there’s a reflective, bittersweet air to the likes of The Promise Of Love and Your House Is On Fire. The predominance of the ballads on the second half of the album does make Relentless seem a bit front-loaded, but it just goes to make incendiary moments like Vainglorious all the more effective.

There may be nothing to touch Pretenders classics like Brass In Pocket or Don’t Get Me Wrong, but Relentless is an appropriately named album – the sound of a band constantly moving forward and refusing to submit to the dying of the light. Relentless indeed.

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