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Pretenders: Pretenders II - Album Of The Week Club review

Written and recorded under pressure, Pretenders II sought to continue where Pretenders I left off. But did it succeed?

Pretenders: Pretenders II
(Image: © Real Records)
Pretenders: Pretenders II

Pretenders II

(Image credit: Real Records)

The Adultress
Bad Boys Get Spanked
Message of Love
I Go to Sleep
Birds of Paradise
Talk of the Town
Pack It Up
Waste Not Want Not
Day After Day
Jealous Dogs
The English Roses
Louie Louie

Following on from 1980’s remarkable debut, Pretenders II was another hit-laden collection from the band fronted by Chrissie Hynde, this one featuring Message Of Love, I Go To Sleep and Talk Of The Town. It also bore a startling physical resemblance to their debut.

The lineup of Hynde, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers were still in place, as was the producer (Chris Thomas) and location (Wessex Studios in London). 

And, just like the first album, Pretenders II featured 11 Hynde/band originals and a Kinks cover (Hynde's partner at the time was Ray Davies – incidentally, The Kinks' Give the People What They Want was released on the same day as Pretenders II).

The similarities might suggest a band running out of inspiration, keen to repeat a formula that worked, and the band have claimed in the years since that this was precisely the case: they were so busy promoting the first album that they weren't able to concentrate on their second. 

"The second album was more difficult, because Chrissie had no time to write," Chambers told Trouser Press. "She has to be relaxed to write, and we were on the road all the time. But I’m quite happy with it. I listen to the first and second albums with equal enjoyment.”

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Other albums released in August 1981

  • Torch - Carly Simon
  • Shot of Love - Bob Dylan
  • Give the People What They Want - The Kinks
  • Dark Continent - Wall of Voodoo
  • Sleep No More - The Comsat Angels
  • Tattoo You - The Rolling Stones
  • Scissors Cut - Art Garfunkel
  • Fire of Love - The Gun Club
  • Brothers of the Road - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Maiden Japan - Iron Maiden
  • New Traditionalists - Devo
  • Short Back 'n' Sides - Ian Hunter
  • Time Exposure - Little River Band
  • Whitford/St. Holmes - Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes

What they said...

"If it is a more conservative album than its predecessor, it is also, musically speaking, a more substantial one. Each of the 12 songs (11 originals and another Ray Davies composition) is packed with instrumental and vocal detail, and while some of the arrangements on the first album trumpeted their daring, on the new LP the seams simply don't show." (New York Times

"The unique American voice of Hynde matched with the tribal beat of Martin Chambers and spangly guitar of Honeyman-Scott was as close to perfect as a band could get in the late 70s. Yet excessive touring combined with substance abuse helped the creative juices stall somewhat. It was difficult second album time." (BBC)

"Even if they offer diminished returns, it's still diminished returns on good material, and much of Pretenders II is quite enjoyable. Yes, it's a little slicker and more stylised than its predecessor, and, yes, there's a little bit of filler, yet any album where rockers as tough as Message of Love and The Adultress are balanced by a pop tune as lovely as Talk of the Town is hard to resist. (AllMusic)

What you said...

Mike Canoe: Because the Pretenders were a big part of early MTV, their image was always linked with their music for me. The biker gang toughness of leader Chrissie Hynde and bassist Pete Farndon, the rumpled charm of guitarist James Honeyman- Scott, the dazzling facial hair of drummer Martin Chambers. The girls could have dandies like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. To me, the Pretenders were the epitome of UK cool - even after I learned that Hynde was actually from Ohio.

The music was cool too. The energy and sneer of punk combined with great songwriting and nimble musicianship. Chrissie Hynde was like a distant sister to Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, just raised on pub rock instead of Led Zeppelin. And her lyrics were frequently provocative, sometimes hilarious, never dull.

The band's second album replicates a lot of what they did the first time around: another Kinks cover, another languid ballad (Birds of Paradise replacing Lovers Of Today), another raging rocker (Bad Boys Get Spanked instead of Tattooed Love Boys).

But among the familiarity, there are also signs of forward motion. The songwriting has matured with songs like the moody Waste Not, Want Not, the frantic opener, The Adultress, and, of course, the previously released hits Message Of Love and Talk Of The Town. Equally sultry and slouching, Jealous Dogs again shows how well the band plays together. Day After Day is a soaring rocker with buoyant vocals by Hynde and Pack It Up is simply one of the best (and funniest) tell-off songs ever recorded.

The first two Pretenders albums were two big exciting steps for rock'n'roll and both remain favourites of mine to this day. And then it all fell apart.

Too often in this club, we type phrases like "gone too soon" or "not meant to be," and so it was with the classic lineup of the Pretenders. Honeyman Scott died of heart failure caused by cocaine intolerance two days after Farndon got sacked from the band for drug use. He O.D.'d the following year. While the Pretenders continued, for me, the band was done. I rarely listened to anything else by the Pretenders because I could never stop thinking "What if?"

Marco LG: The name Pretenders conjures memories from the mid-90s, when the radio was playing incessantly probably their biggest hit ever: I’ll Stand By You. Members of this club will forgive me I hope, as I was merely seven years old when the second album by The Pretenders was released, and I missed all their previous hits while I kept myself busy with Japanese cartoons and Italian pop. The fact however remains: before this week I did not know any other song from The Pretenders nor I had any interest in them.

The association with Sire Records and the unmistakable sound of the album place Pretenders II firmly in the New Wave scene, so let’s set the record straight: I am not a great fan of Punk or the New Wave, but I have listened to quite a few of the recognised masterpieces of the genre, and I have my preferences. So, as soon as my first spin of Pretenders II was over, I felt the need to revisit the debut album by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Scream (1978). The comparison was rather ungenerous, almost causing me to dismiss The Pretenders as a pop band.

Repeat listens however have somewhat soften that first judgment. Pretenders II is an album dangerously close to pop but not quite fully there, at the same time is also very close to rock greatness but not quite fully there. The best moments are thoroughly enjoyable: The Adultress and Pack It Up being the chief examples. The worst are pop songs that have not aged very well: I Go to Sleep and Birds of Paradise would be my picks here. But the real saving grace for the album is the performance of the band. 

Setting aside the vocal dexterity of Chrissie Hynde, on which I think we can all agree, the real reason why I never felt the need to reach for the skip button were the bass lines by Pete Farndon and the riffs by James Honeyman-Scott. While that might not be enough to elevate my score beyond a mere sufficiency, it is a rather sad realisation given this will remain the last performance on record for both men.

In conclusion: whether Pretenders II is a pop album with rock ambition or a rock album with pop aspirations it remains a rather fun listen, helped in no small part by the musicianship on display. It is not classic rock for me, but it contains enough good material to score a 6 out of 10.

Gary Claydon: Ah, the difficult second album. So many bands have struggled with it down the years and Pretenders II is a good example. It's not a bad album, per se. So where's the problem? Well, for one thing, this album had already been done and done better by the band themselves on their debut long-player. In comparison, II is a bit too much 'more of the same' as well as being slightly more well mannered than its new wave predecessor. It's still a fairly enjoyable listen though.

The quality in Pretenders II is most definitely front loaded. Opener The Adultress chugs along and features some neat guitar work by James Honeyman-Scott. Bad Boys Get Spanked comes on like the bastard offspring of Cherry Bomb crossed with White Punks On Dope, with Adam Ant acting as midwife. They then named the child after one of those early 70s British 'adult comedies' that starred Robin Askwith. It's foot-tapping stuff. 

The catchy Message Of Love swings with the sort of nicely angular, jangly (jangular?) guitar which was a trademark of their early work and which seems to have had some influence on The Smiths. Proceedings then ease down a couple of notches with an atmospheric and truly gorgeous version of the Ray Davies-penned I Go To Sleep, a terrific Chrissie Hynde vocal performance, followed by the mellow Birds of Paradise

Side one of the album is rounded off by another of the band's hit singles, the poppy Talk of The Town. And this is where things take a bit of a dive. Nothing else really stands out, with the possible exception of the lyrically telling Day After Day.

While Pretenders II has plenty going for it, decent but not great about sums it up for me.

Uli Hassinger: So that it was, my first approach to the Pretenders. To come straight to the point: I'm disappointed. I expected a lot more, especially more of a punk attitude like early Blondie or Pattie Smith but this was missing on most of the album.

The beginning of the album was kind of difficult because, to me, the first three songs are crap. Then it gets better, but most of the songs are at best average. I'm glad that I've made it to the end because the last song is the best of the album. Louie Louie and Pack It Up are fairly punky and with the atmospheric I Go To Sleep the best songs of the album.

The rest of the songs are quite boring. Just bad songwriting. Nothing which moves you and sticks to your mind. Even the voice of Chrissie didn't touch me in any way.

When this is one of their best records I won't become a big fan of them. For this album I only can give 4/10.

Hai Kixmiller: If not for the title, most first-time listeners probably wouldn't know that Pretenders II is a sophomore effort.

It's a well rounded offering with at least three charting singles; Message Of Love, Talk Of The Town, and Day After Day, a mix of upbeat, obvious Punk-influenced toe tappers like The Adultress and Bad Boys Get Spanked. And some warm and mellow gems such as the Kinks cover, I Go to Sleep and the super groovy The English Roses, which is my personal favourite.

I could pub crawl and walk all over London, on a cool evening, with The English Roses jamming in my ears. Those haunting, jangly guitars driving my legs on, Chrissie's distinctive, sultry, contralto voice making my pulse race while I'm "Looking for someone to hold".

Stephen Grimes: This is a bit of a tricky one. I remember buying both the first album and this one when they were released, probably not long after release in both cases. At the time the first album was a firm favourite and played repeatedly, the same happened with the second, I played it a lot for weeks. They are both very similar in style and sound and they could almost have been a double album. Whereas the third, Learning to Crawl, had time to develop and is better for it.

Part of the impact of Pretenders II was lost as both Message Of Love and Talk Of The Town were on the stop gap Extended Play and Talk Of The Town had been a massive hit single.

I have no evidence to back this up other than my ears but to a certain extent Pretenders II comes over as being made up of songs that didn't make the first album and a few new ones from a band finding themselves needing a new release whilst still touring a highly successful first.

Neither album are ones I have gone back to very often in recent years but having said that it is an enjoyable listen and a solid 7 out of 10, but the first is a comfortable 8

Jonathan Crooks: Compared to first album it's mediocre. Didn't enjoy the listening experience. A lot of fillers outside of the singles.

Philip Qvist: Anybody who says Chrissie Hynde doesn't rock has clearly never listened to their first three albums.

Pretenders II follows quite nicely from their self titled debut and there is plenty to like about it. Opening track The Adultress is a killer, you have a pretty decent cover of the Kinks' I Go To Sleep, while Message Of Love and Talk Of The Town were familiar hits. Waste Not Want Not, Jealous Dogs and Day After Day are also tracks worth mentioning.

Sadly this would be the end of that classic line-up – after the well publicised deaths of James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Fandom – but Chrissie and Martin Chambers would return with a new line up and a great third album, Learning To Crawl. That is another story.

All in all I give Pretenders II a solid 8.

Paul Hutchings: Just given this a listen. The Pretenders were never on my radar. Knew their chart hits and that was about it. This album was decent enough, cleverly played and Chrissie's voice is stellar. Just doesn't stir me much. It'll be a mid-range score.

Richard Cardenas: Outstanding choice.

Honestly, and this will sound so pretentious, those who were not there and young when it came out missed something.

This was a woman with balls to match her powerful voice. Great punk vibe with great musicianship to boot.

I saw this tour and was drenched when the show was over and I proudly walked out with Chrissie’s soaked towel.

John Davidson: The Pretenders burst onto the UK ‘post punk’ scene in 1979 with a slew of singles and an eponymous first album - the best of which was probably Brass in Pocket.

Two years later they returned with Pretenders II, a similar collection of jangly guitar-led pop rock and snarky lyrics, delivered in Chrissie Hynde’s artful, knowing voice.

Hynde’s distinctive singing is slightly hoarse, nasal and isn’t “pretty” which gives some edge to even the poppier songs and adds to the punky attitude.

This is not classic heavy rock by anyone’s measure and although guitar solos were generally sniffed at by the punks and new wave bands they didn’t mind the odd one. So in that regard it's better than 99.9% of the nu-metal that plagued the 90s/00s. Within that context the guitar work is good even if it's down in the mix a bit compared to the vocals and there are flashes of lead here and there.

As an album it doesn’t really cut any new turf, it’s competently delivered throughout with the band sounding tight and each of the songs is enjoyable, but equally it doesn’t challenge either the listener or the band.

Standouts: The Adultress - both lyrically and musically this is the ‘edgiest’ of the songs with some decent powerful guitar. Bad Boys Get Spanked rips along at a fair pace with a punked-up rockabilly sound. Message of Love is just a cracking jaggedly upbeat paean to love.

Overall I like it a lot, even if I don't love it - there are no duff tracks but equally there’s just not enough substance to really get the blood flowing. The singles have the benefit of nostalgia to encourage me to sing along and the best songs are definitely on what would have been side one of the original vinyl with side two largely composed of the kind of songs you might grow to love if you played it to death.

Is it ‘classic rock’ ? Who cares! It’s good music, delivered with guitars, charisma and attitude and with a female lead who is more interested in being Jeff Beck than a pop star. 7/10

Alex Hayes: I've just finished giving Pretenders II a second full listen through and, to be honest, I doubt there'll be a third. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it, it's just that there's a chasm between how much I wanted to enjoy this album and how much I actually did.

I'd never have been motivated enough to check this album out for reasons other than for reviewing it for the Club. The Pretenders were a part of that 'post punk' scene that was so well received here in the UK in the late 70's but, frankly, meant zilch to me personally. Media darlings they may have been, but I'm afraid that The Pretenders have never really done anything for me. I was hoping that Pretenders II might change that.

It didn't, but it would be wrong of me to call this a bad album per se. It isn't. It just wasn't for me. That initial line-up of The Pretenders, sadly short-lived, had impressive musical chops. They also had, and still have of course, an outstanding band leader and focal point in Chrissie Hynde. I can easily imagine other fans getting a lot of enjoyment out of this. It's a very well crafted slice of 'new wave' rock that just didn't tick any of my personal boxes.

I really wanted there to be that 'Eureka, that's what all the fuss was about!' style moment when I started playing this, but it didn't happen. Forgive me for this, but meh.

Final Score: 6.51⁄10 (135 votes cast, with a total score of 880)

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