With few exceptions, most sequels are doomed to be letdowns in comparisons with what came before. The Pretenders had a tall order to fill for their second album, which they kept simple by titling it Pretenders II and going out of the way to make Chrissie Hynde look almost pretty on the cover.
The album is just as tough as the first, blistering with heavy guitars and angry songwriting. And like the first, it was anchored by a couple of great singles. “Message Of Love” is so simple, yet so perfect, and “Talk Of The Town” brings back the pop influences that made her first singles so good. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pretenders album without a Kinks cover, and “I Go To Sleep” did more for Ray Davies than anyone else could at the time. (And it wasn’t even a hit! The only Kinks version exists as a demo, yet Chrissie is the reason why anybody thinks of the song today. Their romance may not have lasted past the birth of their daughter, but Ray can thank the Pretenders for at least one sizable figure on his royalty checks.)
There’s a certain standard to be followed, and they do their best to keep up with it. “The Adultress” [sic] and “Bad Boys Get Spanked” continue the sado-masochistic overtones, while a cod-reggae track, “Waste Not Want Not”, shows up right where it’s supposed to on side two. Meanwhile, “Pack It Up” and “Day After Day” plow through the speakers with excellent construction. The big question mark is “Louie Louie”, which seems to strive to update the original with quotes from “In The Midnight Hour” and “All The Young Dudes”, resulting in a chaotic, horn-driven mess issued as a single.
Still, with all that, the Pretenders had so much to live up to so that Pretenders II is an anticlimax, and it’s nobody’s fault. The expanded Rhino CD might have had even less to work with, a few of the B-sides already having appeared on the expanded debut. But in true fashion the label redeemed itself with a bonus disc consisting of a contemporary promo-only live disc that proves just how tight this band was. As Chrissie said at her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, if it weren’t for Jimmy and Pete, “we wouldn’t be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here.” Within two years’ time, both would be dead. Listening to the blistering performances here—many of which improve on the album versions—it’s absolutely clear that their demise dealt a devastating blow to rock ‘n roll.
The Pretenders Pretenders II (1981)—3½
2006 expanded, remastered CD: same as 1980, plus 18 extra tracks