Thigh boots hoiked rakishly over denim, the swashbuckling queen of British new wave Chrissie Hynde has always trodden a singular rock’n’roll path. A feminist icon renowned for snarling and snorting her way through a man’s world without compromise, yet capable of such tender moments as “I’ll Stand By You” and “2000 Miles”, she embodies a unique blend of assuredness and vulnerability, which is captured in sharp, acerbic portrait on this 11th Pretenders album.
Just look at its bookends. It begins, on the title track, with a ball-breaking caricature of rock’s toxic masculinity, Hynde sneering witheringly at “an arrogant idol” with “hate for sale” who “takes and gets whatever he likes, women, cars and motorbikes” and has breath that could “stop the clocks”. It’s a roadhouse rock “You’re So Vain”, in that it’ll have you forever scouring the song for clues about which superstar scumbag she’s skewering. And, at Hynde’s opposite extreme, the album ends just 30 minutes later with an ode to her most desolate park bench breakdowns called “Crying in Public”. “Feminists claim that we’re all the same,” she sings over tear-jerking piano and chamber strings, “but I don’t know a man who’s felt the same shame.”
In between, Hate for Sale reflects Hynde’s rich mosaic persona and bohemian history. When she’s hailing love as her new favourite intravenous drug on “The Buzz” – with sly side-swipes at the patriarchy that controls supply – it’s to blissed-out surfer pop; when enthusing about the thrill she gets from art and painting in her sixties, it’s to the brash punk of “I Didn’t Know When to Stop”.
The Pretenders originally built their sound from a composite of punk, new wave and mainstream Eighties pop. And while they don’t stray far from those foundations here, their inherent variety keeps things lively, as they delve into dank dub for “Lightning Man” and ballroom balladry for “You Can’t Hurt a Fool”, where Hynde’s sultry purr reaches a balletic falsetto that wouldn’t have shamed 1970s Al Green.
Hate for Sale is the second album in a comeback of sorts – 2016’s Alone was their first in eight years – and now reunited with drummer Martin Chambers, the only other surviving original member, they attack the record with a reunion band zeal.
A few of the melodies fail to stick: Blondie-style glam rocker “Turf Account Daddy” and “Maybe Love Is in NYC”, a grungy eulogy to the romance of Manhattan, have more punch than impact. But when Hynde reels out the rockabilly to target more deadbeats on “Junkie Walk” and “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” in the closing stretch, everything clicks. “Losing you was a relief… I feel pity for the next one,” she snipes over prowling Rickenbacker rhythms, equal parts classic and cutting. Hynde’s rapier remains stinging – and her heart sublimely tarnished.