Break Up the Concrete

The Pretenders

Chrissie Hynde and her latest lineup have taken a career turn remarkably similar to R.E.M. The 2008 releases from both Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame groups stepped away from years of calcifying exercises in atmosphere, switching instead to tight songs that often erupt like coiled springs. Hynde breaks right out with “Boots of Chinese Plastic,” the first of several songs showcasing a band sound that updates rockabilly but with quick guitar duels and sharp accents on pedal steel. Those blitzes and some blues-noise stretches clear the way for improved counterpoint on slower songs, and “Love’s a Mystery” and “One Thing Never Changed” are two of the best Hynde’s written. The bandleader has gotten in front of time and tide, and her lyrics now mix morality, longing, lust and forthrightness more consistently than anyone had a right to expect. Session legend Jim Keltner sits in for Pretenders mainstay Martin Chambers and makes the percussion a bit more gimmicky, but in a pleasurable way. (Speaking of gimmicks, part of the initial pressing of the CD packaging is seed-embedded and can be planted to start a wildflower bed, following through on the title track’s call to action.) —T.E. Lyons