The Pretenders
Get Close
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

The Pretenders previous LP “Learning To Crawl” re-established the group as a polished act. Original members Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers, abetted by the supremely talented guitarist Robbie McIntosh and invisible bassist Malcolm Foster, crafted a pleasantly adult album minus the original group’s posturing punk – turning out a Pretenders coming of age milestone. It looked like the group had the right personnel in place to produce best selling albums for years to come.
So what happened? Success bred contempt. The second edition of The Pretenders imploded almost as quickly as it had been assembled. Rather than build on her band’s comeback success, Hynde decided to treat The Pretenders like Tobacco Road – blow it up and start all over again. The restless Hynde thought a more R & B sound was in order. Why a rebellious punk matron from the mid-west thought she could pull this sort of unwelcome change is another matter. The upgrade meant the tempo challenged team of Chambers and Foster either had to hit the rhythmic pocket or hit the road. Foster opted for another gig and Chambers, still reeling from the OD’s of original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, made it easy on Hynde by taking a much needed sabbatical, leaving Hynde as the great Pretender.
Answering Hynde’s call to funkytown were veteran keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Jack Bruce Band, Parliament Funkadelic and The Talking Heads), cross-genre hopping bassist T.M Stevens (James Brown, Miles Davis and The Mahavishnu Orchestra) and sledge- hammering drummer Blair Cunningham (didn’t he play for the New York Jets? No, but his older brother played drums for Otis Redding and died with him when Redding’s plane crashed.) Guest musicians who lent a hand to the group’s new sound included David Bowie’s guitarist Carlos Alomar, Paul McCartney keyboard wiz Wix, and experienced stick men Mel Gaynor and Simon Phillips.
“My Baby” starts off with a chirpy acoustic guitar. Mid-tempo and safe, with Worrell streaking across the arrangement like a sunspot on synthesizer and providing a percussive piano, Hynde doesn’t push her vocal. The often annoying quiver in her voice is gone, replaced by a breathy, deeper vocal that fits her range. Sadly, Simple Minds’ drummer Mel Gaynor, the powerhouse behind “Alive and Kicking,” plods along, but “My Baby” is an admirable radio-ready rocker.
“When I Change My Life” was assayed with a brain dead tempo as a bonus track on “Learning to Crawl.” Propped up by Phillips’ quasi-reggae beat, Wix’s sunny keyboards and a more involved vocal by Hynde, it’s transformed from a mopey ballad to positive pop. Wix’s addition of an ARP synth is a little out of date, but does provide a pleasant background.