I’m willing to bet that the majority of reviews for Chrissie Hynde’s Stockholm will spend a fair amount of time going on about how this is her first solo album. Technically it isn’t, but of course, that also depends on how you define a solo album. Conventional wisdom has come to define a Chrissie Hynde solo album as one with no original surviving Pretenders (i.e., Martin Chambers), and if that is true, then Stockholm would be her third solo album after 1990’s Packed! and 2008’s Break Up the Concrete, both billed as the Pretenders. Since the crediting of the former to the Pretenders was more out of contractual obligation, it could easily be argued that Hynde’s actual solo debut arrived nearly 25 years ago. So, let’s just call this what it is: Chrissie Hynde’s first album under her own name.
Is that important, though? For an artist such as Hynde, someone who doesn’t crave celebrity or fame, probably not so much. This isn’t the same as Morrissey, who after leaving the Smiths strongly sought to free himself of that anchor. For the better part of 35-plus years, Hynde has led the Pretenders, guiding the group initially with three other players, but eventually taking full control of the helm. She came to define the band, and for better or worse, was at times herself defined by the band. Perhaps there was a sense of claustrophobia, or perhaps she just felt it was time to come out from under the Pretenders veil. It isn’t as if her image, look, style, or sound has altered much in nearly 40 years. She looks pretty much the same as she always has, nowhere bordering self-parody the way in which, say, Robert Smith does. And if you closed your eyes and simply listened to her songs, you may be hard-pressed to say which were older, as her voice has remained consistent her entire career.
The slight chip-on-her-shoulder delivery coupled with a wink and a kiss is so recognizable that it is almost patentable at this point, and from the album’s opening notes, Stockholm (named for where she recorded the album) sounds pretty much just like what you’d expect Chrissie Hynde (or a latter-day Pretenders album) to sound like, even with production by Peter Bjorn and John’s Bjorn Yttling. It isn’t that this album sounds like a Pretenders album, but that it’s now nearly impossible to separate the two. And considering that the cover to every Pretenders album released after 1984’s Learning to Crawl features her on her own, Stockholm, with its cover of Hynde standing in a typically defiant stance, fits into that streak as well.
She’s never been one to kowtow to trends or hype, and when you look at who she’s played with over her career (members of what would become the Clash and the Damned, Cher, Clapton, the Kinks, UB40, and even Frank Sinatra), why should she? She continues to buck trends with her latest “collaborations” (guest spots, really) on Stockholm. Neil Young, who also happened to induct Hynde’s group into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, appears on “Down the Wrong Way”, a track that at times feels like Hynde was trying to interpret a Neil Young style through a Pretenders filter. Tennis legend John McEnroe lends his guitar skills on “A Plan Too Far”, a strange appearance that came about when Hynde tried to impress her producer, a huge tennis fan, by dropping that she knew McEnroe. His playing doesn’t add anything fertile to the mix, but the novelty certainly merits some attention.
With Stockholm, Hynde doesn’t break any new ground, nor does she redefine herself or her place in music. But should we really expect that at this stage in her career? The album plays well, but eventually leaves a craving for her first Pretenders albums more than anything else. At its best, Stockholm is a solid and grounded album that speaks to Hynde’s strengths; at its worst, to crib a song title from the last group photo session, it’s a tad “Middle of the Road”.
Essential Tracks: “You or No One”, “Dark Sunglasses”