Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chrissie Hynde. Stockholm.

Chrissie Hynde.  Stockholm.
Caroline International, 2014.  Chrissie Hynde:

I still recall my introduction to Chrissie Hynde’s voice, hearing “Brass in Pocket” on the radio in 1979.  I soon got the first Pretenders album as a gift from a friend, and loved it.  It became part of the soundtrack of my often bleak graduate school existence (in a galaxy far away--I swear I will write a book about it all), along with the Cars, Gary Numan, Dire Straits, and Blondie.  You can’t shake music as memory and Hynde’s voice is imprinted on my love life.  I hope she doesn’t find that disturbing.  Shortly after I moved to Ohio, “Where Did My City Go” became a hit as I acclimated to the Rust Belt.  I was excited when I heard that Hynde was putting out a new album, and decided to review it rather than pass it off to another writer.  

Hynde’s voice has changed little, which is a big part of the charm of this album.  I’ve always found her sound unique, tough, sexy, and slightly off-kilter, and I’m glad she’s still got it.  The music is a bit different from earlier albums, probably reflecting both her changing collaborators, in this case Björn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn & John), and her changing tastes through time.  The title of the album refers to where she recorded it with Yttling.  Here, the songs tend to be just a bit less hard-edged than on earlier albums (although there are exceptions), and she seems more willing to let her vocals be structured by the music rather than spill all over it in chaotic bursts.  Both styles are effective, so I’m happy either way.  Ytlling dominates the album from a musical perspective (just look at the list of instruments he plays) and he co-wrote many of the songs.  It’s still Hynde’s album all the way

The songs are great, filled with hooks and riffs that are memorable, and I would peg several for serious hits if only there were still singles charts that mattered.  The opening track, “You or No One,” is retro, not to the late 70s, but more to the 60s, with a Phil Spector-like sound.  Her voice slips and slides all over the song, with nice background vocals.  I put “Like in the Movies” in the same category, not so much for a retro sound (a little), but for the effect, a somewhat pop-oriented tune that I find infectious.  Then you’re suddenly thrown right into a much heavier song, “Down the Wrong Way,” and there’s no mistaking  the guitar of Neil Young.  Well put-together, with just the right balance between vocals and instruments, it’s one of my favorites on the album.  This is followed by “You’re the One,” a more synth-oriented tune that is a serious earworm, followed by “A Plan too Far,” with quite good guitar work by John McEnroe.  Impressive.  “Sweet Nuthin’”  is a real head-bopper and another favorite.  

Hynde does three ballads here, and they make for a nice change-up from the power pop of the rest of the album.  “It’s a Miracle,” is a fine tune, well-delivered, although a couple of riffs seem to be lifted from “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Tourniquet” sounds similar musically.  “Adding the Blue” is the closer, and it’s a real beauty, the best of the three, and anthemic in style.  Lyrically, a few of the songs suffer from the overuse of cliche phrases, but they can be overlooked easily.  Hynde is a bit less acerbic than she used to be, but only on average. Some songs are sadly sweet while others are still full of spit and sass.

Rolling Stone gave the release 3 ½ stars and Pitchfork scored it 5.8.  Screw that.  This is a much better album than they’re willing to give Hynde credit for. I discovered a treasure trove of fine songs, and fans of Hynde’s work should find plenty to enjoy.

Personnel:  Chrissie Hynde (vocals), Björn Yttling (electric bass, acoustic guitar, piano, synth, electric guitar, organ, percussion, mellotron, celeste), Joakim Ählund (guitar, backing vocals), John Eriksson (drums, percussion), Niklas Gabrielsson (drums), Nino Keller (drums, backing vocals), Ulf Engstrom (bass, backing vocals), Mattias Bostrom (electric guitar), Neil Young (electric guitar), John McEnroe (electric guitar), Andreas Pettersson (steel guitar), Petter Axelsson (viola), Andreas Forsman (violin), Conny Lindgren (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello, saw), Zacharias Blad (backing vocals).
Tracks:  You or No One, Dark Sunglasses, Like in the Movies, Down the Wrong Way, You’re the One, A Plan too Far, In a Miracle, House of Cards, Tourniquet (Cynthia Ann), Sweet Nuthin’, Adding the Blue.

Björn Yttling
Jeff Wanser

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