The One after the Big One: Pretenders, GET CLOSE
After 1984’s cathartic and uniformly excellent LEARNING TO CRAWL, the Pretenders were rightly considered among the finest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world, and Chrissie Hynde likewise deserved the praise she received as a songwriter and performer. Everything began to crumble, though, as sessions began for the follow up record GET CLOSE. Hynde fired drummer Martin Chambers and bassist Malcolm Foster quit shortly thereafter, leaving Hynde and guitarist Robbie McIntosh to move forward with a group of session musicians. While Steve Jordan and Simon Phillips stepped in to drum and John McKenzie and Bruce Thomas (from Elvis Costello and the Attractions) came in to play bass, six of the album’s 11 songs featured a rhythm section of bassist T.M. Stevens and drummer Bill Cunningham, who joined the band full-time after the album’s completion (though Stevens and touring keyboardist Bernie Worrell would be let go in the middle of the subsequent tour).
Even with so many personnel issues, GET CLOSE still sounds like a coherent statement from the band. The use of synthesizers on some tracks dates the production somewhat, but some of Hynde’s finest songs and singing can be found on the record. Though it wasn’t a single, “Chill Factor” is a highlight, with its classic soul song structure and empowering lyric, though it’s not as easy to hum along with as “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” the album’s first single and biggest hit. That song has an easy melody and pleasant guitar jangle, which made it a sunny radio favorite in the winter of 1986 and ‘87.
“My Baby” is an arena-worthy opener, and not just because it features a breakdown with an arena audience cheering. It’s a big song, with a big sound and big drums and an undercurrent of guitar and keyboards, with Hynde’s voice smoothly riding on top of it all. She sounds considerably less smooth on “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?” with a funky bass and synth driving the song, an accusatory bromide against corporate involvement in rock music. Everything but Hynde’s voice and the keyboards are stripped back for “Hymn to Her,” arguably GET CLOSE’s most resonant and lasting track — one you still hear on adult contemporary radio today — though it’s one of the few tracks on the album Hynde herself didn’t write.
GET CLOSE was the last listeners heard from Hynde for four years, until the 1990 album PACKED!, by which point she was the sole member of the band. And though the record’s production is a bit on the glossy side, the songs on GET CLOSE are strong, and worth another listen.
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