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The Pretenders - Break Up the Concrete - Shangri-La

Chrissie Hynde sure hasn't changed a whole lot since we first got a glimpse of her staring through stringy black hair, appearing urbanely street-smart in her red leather jacket from the cover of the Pretenders album in 1980. As Break Up The Concrete shows, she still has the wit, emotion, and backbone to write rock songs that seem to easily cut through the clutter. Armed with that talent – and with her remarkable, almost one-of-a-kind voice – the new album is an easy thumbs-up, much more of it's time than the last album (2002's Loose Screw) was.

With long-time drummer Martin Chambers taking a powder on this recording, Pretenders is really more of a concept than a band these days. Hynde did do a good job with the musicians this time around, including grabbing veteran Jim Keltner to replace Chambers behind the kit. There's also a real immediacy to this set of tunes, a rambling, rocking Americana (not the music format, but the concept) vibe throughout that probably owes a lot to Hynde spending a of of time back home in her native Ohio. It was the urban decay of her hometown of Akron that inspired the title track, a hippy dream drenched in a fierce Bo Diddley beat. The short, to-the-point rockers like "Don't Cut Your Hair" and "You Didn't Have To" sound great, but there's also the way lovely "Love's A Mystery" that reprises sublime ballad-y Pretenders moments like "Lover's Of Today" or "Show Me".

It's been 28 years since her first release, and Chrissie Hynde is still making every effort to prove to everybody that she may be pretending, but she ain't no joke...

Written by Dan Reed