The Pretenders are more rebellious than ever on ‘Hate for Sale’

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

For many classic rock bands, reaching icon status can be a double-edged sword. No Metallica album released after the band’s eponymous 1991 masterpiece, for example, has been able to escape the shadow of its early thrash metal sound. On their album Hate for Sale, however, The Pretenders successfully revive their signature style while also exploring new sounds in a tracklist full of gems.

Frontwoman Chrissie Hynde helped found The Pretenders in 1978 and has remained the band’s sole consistent member. Hate for Sale is Hynde’s first studio album with The Pretenders’ newest lineup. On Hate for Sale, Hynde shares all songwriting credits with lead guitarist James Walbourne, who joined the band in 2008. Hate for Sale also marks the return of drummer Martin Chambers, who is the only other surviving member of the original Pretenders lineup and last performed on 2002’s Loose Screw.

The standout track on the album is “You Can’t Hurt a Fool,” a soulful R&B ballad about the naivete of a diva who is “too young for her age.” Hynde’s sultry voice is heartful and introspective in a catchy chorus that offers up hard rock wisdom: “You can’t hurt a fool/ So don’t even try/ Because genuine fools/ Don’t play by the rules.” Hynde’s vocal prowess is also shown off in “Maybe Love Is in NYC,” a cynical, grungy take on romance, or lack thereof, in the heart of the city. Here, Hynde retains a balance between gritty and gentle that is reminiscent of classic Pretenders hits such as 1982’s “Back on the Chain Gang.”

Hate for Sale also features several blistering rockers that reflect on The Pretenders’ punk origins. Foremost among these is the title track, Hynde’s searing criticism of toxic masculinity in rock ’n’ roll. Hynde, who was active in the ’70s British punk scene prior to founding The Pretenders, is in a better position than anyone to scoff at the porn-addicted, self-proclaimed rebel with a “curly tongue” and “coke in his pocket.” Chambers brings “Hate for Sale” alive with his heavy, chugging drum track that is perfectly balanced by Walbourne’s distorted riffs and withering solos. Chambers and Walbourne also shine on “Turf Accountant Daddy,” a punchy, snarling tune that finds Hynde detailing the exploits of a philandering lover who “keeps his profile low” as he two-times her.

Drug addiction, touched upon in “Hate for Sale,” becomes a major motif as the album progresses. In the second song, “The Buzz,” Hynde casts love as an opiate, lamenting the messy nature of an obsessive relationship without sounding cliche. Hynde’s voice is silky smooth over a wave of overdriven guitars as she sings: “Love, oh love/ I can only prove you’re real/ By the scratching and the fever/ Proof for a believer.” Hate for Sale revists addiction with an angry, incredibly catchy melody in “Junkie Walk,” featuring a disdainful Hynde sneering biting criticisms above buzzing guitars and a raucous drum track.

Hate for Sale follows up “Junkie Walk” with the more upbeat “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely,” which focuses on the contradictory nature of many breakups. Chambers’ tom-tom drumming is perfectly light along with Walbourne’s churning guitar, providing the perfect backing as Hynde sings, “Well I didn’t want to be this lonely/ Though losing you was a relief/ From a life with one man only/ Devoid of morals or belief.” “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely” and “I Didn’t Know When To Stop” are paradoxically both refined and raw. Both songs undeniably have the recognizable Pretenders sound, but the new lineup adds unique twists to the formula.

Nick Wilkinson’s bass shines on “Lightning Man,” the biggest departure from the traditional Pretenders ballpark. A reggae-influenced slow rock song, the lively “Lightning Man” adds variety and keeps Hate for Sale from feeling stagnant. The closing song, piano ballad “Crying in Public,” is the only track that doesn’t fully land. The tone is almost maudlin compared to the rest of Hate for Sale, but the track nonetheless further showcases Hynde’s impressive vocals and profound lyrics. The Pretenders’ fresh, dynamic lineup coupled with Hynde’s evergreen voice makes Hate for Sale an enchanting effort that is perfectly suited to the legendary band’s discography.

Contact Neil Haeems at [email protected].