UNDERRATED: The Pretenders, PRETENDERS II
How does an artist follow an instantly classic debut? It's a problem precious few bands have had to deal with. The Pretenders is one of those bands. When Chrissie Hynde and company debuted with the group's eponymous first LP during the final moments of the 1970s, it was a revelation. Hynde's exceptional songwriting and vocal delivery was perfectly supported by a crack band of Brits, including pioneering guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott. Featuring songs including "Brass in Pocket" and "Kid," it firmly established the Pretenders right at the forefront of the world of modern rock 'n' roll.
By the time the group got off tour long enough to craft a sophomore album, the Pretenders had already dropped the Extended Play EP in March 1981. Two of those tunes wound up on Pretenders II, released August 15, 1981. While some fans balked at the inclusion of previously issued tracks, others were more taken aback by the new material that was there.
Chrissie's Hynde's already scathing pen took a turn towards the dark(er) side, with the grim tale of grinding first track, "The Adulteress," followed by the double-time domination of "Bad Boys Get Spanked." The band slams the brakes with the next two tracks: somber Kinks cover, "I Go to Sleep," and the heartbreaking ballad, "Birds of Paradise." Side one of Pretenders II ends on the previously released but frankly perfect single, "Talk of the Town."
Pretenders II swerves into even more adventurous territory on Side two, with Hynde raging at Midwestern mentalities on "Pack It Up," before cruising into the reggae-inspired range of "Waste Not Want Not." The band peeled back the rock 'n' roll lifestyle facade with "Day After Day," and railed at money-grubbers ("Jealous Dogs). Melodic blues number "The English Roses" plays like the mournful counterpoint to "The Adulteress," lamenting "a thousand broken dates." James Honeyman-Scott peels off blistering licks throughout the track, delivering a brief but stunning solo. The LP ends on an upbeat note, surrendering to the insanity of being a rock 'n' roll lifer, leaning into the excess and lamenting those stuck in the cycle of tradition: "Sandy and harry got married and moved away/'cause they had nothin' left to say/Yeah!"
Despite mixed reviews, Pretenders II still found its fans across America, peaking at #10 on the Billboard 200 for week of September 12, 1981. The #1 album in the country that week: Journey with Escape. Tragically, it was the last Pretenders full-length to feature Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Fardon. The guitarist died of a drug overdose in June 1982, just days after Farndon was fired from the group due to his increasing narcotic dependency. Farndon died of an overdose in April 1983.