Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Balls in Pocket

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Nick Lowe, the redoubtable pop kingpin who produced the Pretenders' debut single, "Stop Your Sobbing," once remarked that the first time he heard Chrissie Hynde it reminded him of a wistful Woolworth's counter girl, serenading herself with no one else around. Utterly sweet, pure, heartbreaking and real.

No fool Nick; his ears did not lie, and those immaculate Hynde qualities didn't stop at her vocal cords. Over the last 28 years, she has consistently been one of the best songwriters in rock 'n' roll, as this blessed hunk (81 tracks and 19 videos) of Pretenders material proves beyond a doubt. (The box has Ben Edmonds-penned liners, photos by Creem's Robert Matheu and many live shots of the band in Detroit; the cover is Hynde at the Fox Theatre in 1984.)

Hynde has always been the driving force of the band, which has suffered the deaths of two originals — guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farnsworth in '82 and '83, respectively — and she's managed to create pop gems with every incarnation since. From the early days of smoldering, ear-bending hits like "Precious," "Brass In Pocket" and "Kid" (wherein Honeyman-Scott renders perhaps the most perfect guitar solo ever) through classics like "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Night In My Veins," "Back on the Chain Gang" and "I'll Stand By You," Pirate Radio fills the bill.

But far more than a greatest hits package, the four-disc set offers such unreleased delicacies as "Tequila," Warren Zevon's "Reconsider Me," and Lennon and McCartney's "Not A Second Time," as well as live cuts including "Up the Neck" and "The Homecoming."

Tracks aside, an extra treat included is the DVD, a career-spanning batch of vids and live performances (some in Detroit) that shows this was a band to see as much as hear. Hynde's an artist who looks exactly like she sounds and sounds like she looks. From behind the Cleopatra eyeliner and retina-level bangs that beat even early Cher-do's, the rail-thin, foxy Chrissie projects a sexy, snarling bar queen one minute, and a tragically vulnerable sweetheart the next.

Still, it's not all about her; watching 1979's Top of the Pops rendition of "Brass In Pocket," one is reminded of how much of an actual group the band was. Everyone looked cool, everyone could play, every song a winner. This was the quartet from London that arrived on these shores so long ago with a viciously charismatic, expat woman who melded Ronnie Spector with the Kinks with a punk attitude and cranked the package into something brilliant. Forget about what's playing across the dial at the moment, Pirate Radio is something to listen to forever.

Peter Gilstrap is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].


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