Thirty-five years after The Pretenders’ debut, frontwoman Chrissie Hynde is touring behind “Stockholm”, the first album released under her name alone. But calling it “her first solo record” isn’t quite accurate; it’s almost as if she’s been producing herself as a solo artist since the beginning. For most The Pretenders’ existence, her band consisted of Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers and expert guitarists like the late James Honeyman-Scott — who understood how to serve the sound — a map of the intersection where Iggy Pop meets AM pop. Hynde’s biggest strength has always been finding the right collaborators to bring her vision to life. While there’s no need for further proof that her instincts are trustworthy, you’ll find it in “Stockholm”.
“What I really like is timeless stuff,” she tells the Scene. “I like a very, very standard rock setup, guitar-bass-drums, one guitar hero and one shitty player, who’s me, to keep it a bit punky, and that’s about it, really.”
Stockholm carries on the tradition to great effect. Recorded with an all-Swedish backing band and co-written and produced by Bjorn Yttling (Peter Bjorn and John), the songs come across as spare but not stark, focusing on the fundamentals and adding clever hooks where they’ll have the most impact. The collaboration behind Stockholm works because it wants to be neither flavor of the month nor revival of the glory days, the same philosophy that makes Yttling’s work with PB&J and Lykke Li stand out from its peers.
Hynde called in a couple of old friends, as well. Guest appearances by Neil Young and tennis star John McEnroe came about through Hynde’s desire to provoke a reaction from the notoriously stoic Yttling, but Young’s torn-speaker snarls on “Down the Wrong Way” and McEnroe’s reverb-drenched percussive licks on “A Plan Too Far” serve their respective songs perfectly.
Ultimately, Stockholm’s songs do the heavy lifting. “Dark Sunglasses” is a radio-friendly sing-along, but Hynde and Yttling practically tuck a novella inside. It’s an indictment of a playboy who’s decided to settle down. Hynde uses the melodic contour of “Ring Around the Rosy” to lend a mocking tone to the lines “So you had a go at / Sleeping in the van / But you couldn’t let it go too far.” Through her ever-so-slightly wistful delivery of lines like, “Shave and wear a tie / It isn’t sacrificing much / Lucky guy, you can still get high,” you get the impression she’s been on the other side of this situation before. In less than three minutes, they’ve painted a nuanced picture of a relationship in a song you can pump a fist and bang your head to.
Making this kind of album, let alone sustaining a catalog of Hynde’s caliber, takes a healthy skepticism toward the commercial aspects of music, and hers is the healthiest kind: She calls out the bullshit without condemning the entire business. The latest sounding of the weak-sales alarm, Nielsen’s October report that no album sold over 1 million copies in the first three quarters of 2014, compared with five albums over the same period in 2013, doesn’t faze Hynde.
“That’s a real sad indictment of [a creative] industry, that it’s judged by sales,” she continues. “Way too much emphasis on numbers and who’s the biggest. If you wanna be in a rock ‘n’ roll band and you wanna stay cool, stay in the middle.”
Consistent with her own advice, Hynde’s tour, which she was skeptical about doing at all until after the album was released this summer, is of 1,500- to 5,000-seat theaters. Having a big enough enterprise to tour arenas might be more lucrative, but the intimacy suffers, to the detriment of artist and audience alike. “If you wanna be in a stadium, play football!” she says. “Once you’re there, there’s no way back. Why someone would want to keep going bigger and bigger is beyond me, unless it’s the money or the status, two things I’m not motivated by.”
Tickets are still available for her performance this Monday November 10th at the Ryman. Expect to hear classic tunes as well as plenty of new material.