Ahead-of-their-time is not a descriptor I’d be reticent to dole to the Pretenders. Classically trained yet spunky, confident, original, I’d grant these all to the Brit/American post-punkers no problem. To top it off, they “rock” in a way that’s not only visceral, as on the intermittent guitar baths in the chorus of “Up the Neck,” but pedagogical too, bestowing on us the wonders of making an album that can be had when genre mission-statement is wedged so firmly within the proverbial “garage.”
The Pretenders have two influences, in total: punk, and rock. So how is it that every song is so different from the last one on this self-titled blitzkrieg, how do they seem to incorporate more personalities than they have band members?
In my last review, I handled the issue of band collaboration, basically how the process of interaction and conjoined review informs the songwriting process and final output. I don’t think this is an element that should be taken lightly — obviously nobody wants to have a pointless job, few people are satisfied just being “session musicians” their whole lives, if ever. So it stands to reason that all voices are heard, each musician — Martin Chambers, Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott, Chrissie Hynde — has some effect on the product. Now if democracy, whether or not possible in national politics, instills such perfection in rock music, shouldn’t a band’s report card contain an assessment of their ability to BE democratic, as well as accomplish whatever other, possibly artificial, landmark cultural activities which may be thirsted for, like say “walking like an Egyptian?” (though I happen to love “Walk Like an Egyptian”).
The Pretenders took the baton straight from Led Zeppelin in 1980, probably, as embodying the greatest rock band on the planet, and how’s this for foiling their predecessors: the bassist is actually the MOST important member, and “Space Invader” is why. This album instrumental fights fire with fire: not only is it not content simply commenting on a looming social qualm, overpopulation, but it doesn’t even NEED lyrics at all to make its point, and in fact, it’s gonna invade YOUR space. So in other words, they’re making music that Led Zeppelin should have made, but couldn’t — and whether it was for Jimmy Page’s potential totalitarianism, or the false sense of grandiosity the band’s substance habits bestowed them, almost seems beside the point: when your ONLY influence is rocking — not “having a successful career,” not “proving a point,” not “winning a girl” or “winning a boy,” the hard process is forged as easy, anvil, my friends, meets hot steel.