The Big Noise

THE PRETENDERS Viva El Amor WEA; As with much of her output, there's a shrewd grasp of pop history here

THE TITLE translates as "Long Live Love", a song which Chrissie Hynde has yet to cover - although, given her versatility over the past 20 years, one wouldn't put it past her. Unlike most of her punk-era contemporaries, she manages to navigate smoothly through a variety of styles without compromising her core musical values, a rare gift which she has nurtured carefully over a career consisting of a relatively paltry eight albums.

With Viva El Amor, her first studio album in five years, virtually her full range of modes is contained in one handy package, tracking her emotional condition as it moves from the vulnerability of "From The Heart Down" to the rough-stuff assertiveness of"Samurai" and "Biker".

"Popstar" opens the album with Chrissie in familiar territory, acidly cutting up unnamed colleagues in the manner of "Private Life" and "Talk Of The Town". This time, it's the recent rash of prefabricated pop poppets that come in for a tongue-lashing, Hynde contemptuous of their apparent shallowness and lack of spine. "They don't make 'em like they used to," she observes, surely with one eye on the mirror.

As with much of her output, there's a shrewd grasp of pop history at work in the arrangement, where the slick rhythm guitar, fuzz bass and warped harmonica solo are joined by harmonies which are culled from "Sweets For My Sweet".

Her disdain isn't limited just to her contemporaries, though; "Baby's Breath" finds Chrissie chafing at the attentions of a young admirer - "Why did you send me roses? Save them for someone's death" - while her chiding in "From The Heart Down" is directed more at herself, for how her "senses must compete with a brain that lets me down".

Though she can be as reflective and resigned as Aimee Mann about emotional turmoil, the dark, languid eroticism of "Samurai" suggests a preference for passion over romance - an impression confirmed by the closing "Biker", a brooding rumination on outsider appeal which contrasts the "bogus desires" of society with the outlaw life: "You who have nothing have something/ That only the 1 per cent could ever see/ You bring out the biker in me."

With the Stephens Hague and Street ensuring that the music has a smooth and contemporary surface, and guitarist Adam Seymour displaying inventive restraint throughout, Viva El Amor is as elegant and accomplished an album as we have any right to expect from Chrissie Hynde at this point in her career.

Certainly, she's mastered better than most the trick of growing old gracefully without also growing soft and complacent.

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