Talkhouse Contributing Writer Peter Holsapple has sung and played guitar in the dB’s, Holsapple & Stamey, and Continental Drifters, as well as playing on albums and tours with R.E.M., Hootie and the Blowfish, Indigo Girls, and Nanci Griffith. He contributes to the New York Times‘ songwriter’s blog Measure for Measure, and has written pieces in several books on music. Peter is a charter member of Radio Free Song Club, a magnificent new songwriters’ collective. He considers himself among the luckiest people on earth.
What’s the difference between a Chrissie Hynde record and a Pretenders record?
In the case of Stockholm, her new album, it is absolutely the deep involvement of Björn Yttling of Swedish pop band Peter Björn and John, who is also Lykke Li’s long-time right-hand man.
I have always really admired the music of the Pretenders, especially the neat little turns the songs take. The first two albums were chock-full of stuff like that: “The Wait” and its unusual time signature, the fun vocal echo shenanigans on “Stop Your Sobbing,” all layered into these searing tracks of post-Ronson electric guitar and buoyant baselines. Hynde’s lyrics were delivered with the finest kind of Midwestern snide tone; arrangements were rambunctious train rides. These were very exciting records that still hold up today. Hearing the original band pull it off live at Central Park in 1980 was revelatory.
While Hynde co-wrote some of the more significant songs with her erstwhile bandmates (and eventually with pros like Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg), the best were always her solo compositions. She took the great traditions of the Who and the Kinks and modernized the sound with her Joni-like quiver and drawl, creating these dense, intelligent diamonds of rock songs.
So the fact that this entire album was co-written with Yttling helps explain the disquieting and distressing lack of twists throughout. It’s as though the entire record has sanded off any of those songwriting edges, save those remaining in the snarly Hynde lyrics: “And youʼll remember/how good it tasted/inside the ruling class/wasted, behind your dark sunglasses.”
One feels a general disconnection between the words and the music — the chord progressions are rarely as distinct or sophisticated as what the lyrics deserve. Is it possible that Chrissie couldnʼt finish the songs herself and called in Yttling to finish the job? She wouldnʼt have been the first to work that way. There is a sense of caution in the way the songs move, and only when you get toward the end of the album, with “Sweet Nuthin'” and “Adding the Blue,” do a couple of unexpected moments of grandeur and grace jump out.
Yttling also is the main instrumentalist and producer on Stockholm. He has failed to give the sound of this album much audio-geographical scope, unfortunately: It wants to be so much bigger than it is.
While I have no doubt that this record was sincerely conceived, that doesn’t change the failure of the songs to move me very much at all. Chrissie’s bad-ass side is nowhere in evidence on Stockholm. I understand that you don’t write the same kind of music at 62 as you did at 28, unless your life has been completely insular. One could hardly say hers has been. But the general embrace of tepid commercial stabs is not what I might have sought from a non-Pretenders record, and it appears more desperate than it should. Hynde’s collaboration with Yttling has resulted in a dissatisfying record that fails to engage this listener. Itʼs hard to find a lot to love for it. I do hope she records more under her solo guise — but I hope the results are less ordinary for such a clever and soulful an artist as Chrissie Hynde.