Release Date: Jun 10, 2014
Record label: Chrissie Hynde
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For a woman with a voice like an open (if rough-edged) straight razor, Chrissie Hynde chose a smooth retro-pop vein to slash into for her solo debut. Stockholm, produced by Peter Bjorn and John’s Bjorn Yttling, has the cutting lyrical tilt and raw agony that defined the Pretender, but its sheen beckons listeners. The silken opener “You Or No One,” string-drenched and timpani-rolled, evokes ‘60s Britpop at its lushest.
Some 35 years after the Pretenders' debut, Chrissie Hynde steps out on her own with 2014's Stockholm. Its title is not a reference to the infamous "Stockholm syndrome" but rather an allusion to her chief collaborator on the project, Björn Yttling, of the Swedish pop band Peter Bjorn and John. He's the most prominent collaborator Hynde has had in a while -- she collaborated with then-lover JP Jones on the 2010 album Fidelity! and spent most of 2002's Loose Screw writing with long-term latter-day Pretenders guitarist Adam Seymour -- but collaborators tend to fade into the background with Hynde, just like how distinctions between a band and solo performances blur with her, too.
Thirty-plus years into her career and finally dispensing with the Pretenders name, Chrissie Hynde still finds herself warning haters not to "fuck with this heart of mine" in that elastic voice. On her delicate and sexy solo debut – actually a joint effort with new writing partner Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, plus guests including Neil Young and, oddly, tennis great John McEnroe – she does decompress: "In a Miracle" sounds like Aimee Mann after a warm bath. But Hynde can still flash her blade.
After 36 years, it seems that The Pretenders‘ name has been put to rest. For, astonishingly enough, this is actually Chrissie Hynde’s debut solo album, although you could make a fair case for arguing she’s been an solo act in all but name for some years now – the last Pretenders album in 2008, Break Up The Concrete didn’t even feature long-term drummer Martin Chambers and was simply Hynde with some session musicians. As such, Stockholm won’t sound like a particularly big departure for one of the more iconic women in rock.
Having become a household name as singer of The Pretenders, it may come as a surprise three-and-a-half decades later to discover this is Chrissie Hynde’s first solo album. It stands up to her past endeavours, though there’s no ‘I’ll Stand By You’ or ‘Brass In Pocket’ among these 11 slickly-produced AOR offerings made with the assistance of Björn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn And John). ‘Down The Wrong Way’ and ‘Dark Sunglasses’ are ’60s drivetime radio throwbacks with a touch too much sheen, with only the beguiling ‘In A Miracle’ coming close to classic.
The return of Chrissie Hynde makes one realise how much we have missed that yearning, soulful vibrato. After 35 years fronting the Pretenders, she insists that her first "solo album" is more collaborative than usual, referring to Björn Yttling (of Peter, Björn and John) as producer/co-writer, and guitar cameos from Neil Young and John McEnroe (seriously). Young's trademark Crazy Horse chug fires the gently sassy Down the Wrong Way, but many tracks definitely do recall her old band.
Anyone hoping for Chrissie Hynde's first solo record to deliver something in the way of personal insight will be disappointed. She has talked its significance down in interviews, and the lyrics reflect on love lost and found in such generalised terms that on You're the One, she concedes that she's trotting out love-poem cliches. There's enough character and cool in that husky voice that she can trot out what she wants and almost get away with it, and co-writer Björn Yttling brings some extra zip to the mid-tempo power pop, but you're still left wishing for something a little more revealing and bold.
Chrissie Hynde has been making records for over three decades, but until now she’s never released a proper “solo” record. Under the guise of the Pretenders, Hynde operated as the leader of a constantly evolving gang, a dynamic that always seemed of paramount importance to her. The power of the Pretenders hinged explicitly on Hynde's personality and musical force, but she always made clear that the Pretenders were a band, and that she was no solo act—so Stockholm, the first album Hynde's released under her own name, represents a left turn for her career.
I’m willing to bet that the majority of reviews for Chrissie Hynde’s Stockholm will spend a fair amount of time going on about how this is her first solo album. Technically it isn’t, but of course, that also depends on how you define a solo album. Conventional wisdom has come to define a Chrissie Hynde solo album as one with no original surviving Pretenders (i.e., Martin Chambers), and if that is true, then Stockholm would be her third solo album after 1990’s Packed! and 2008’s Break Up the Concrete, both billed as the Pretenders.
On the opening track of Chrissie Hynde’s solo debut album Stockholm, she sings “I’ve waited so long”, a sentiment that could serve either its implied romantic function or as an appropriate mission statement of waiting to break free and present herself as a solo artist. Regardless of its intention, the fact of the matter is the Pretenders have always been Chrissie Hynde and then whoever fills in behind her. Her inimitable voice is the voice of the band, regardless of who’s backing her.
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders is one of the greatest rock singers of her generation — so what is she doing making a fluffy album like this, saddled with treacly synth-pop songs? Hynde’s management decided it would be a great idea for her to collaborate with Bjorn Yttling (of Swedish popsters Peter Bjorn and John), but there are countless other musicians one would prefer to see her teamed up with. One is Neil Young, who almost singlehandedly saves the album with his guitar mania on “Down the Wrong Way,” where Hynde matches him by singing, “The truth is, I have nothing to lose.” Well, that’s not quite right. She has her rock credibility to lose — and it’s in tatters after some of the mediocre material here.