The Pretenders' debut album was such a powerful, monumental record that its sequel was bound to be a bit of a disappointment, and Pretenders II is. Essentially, this album is an unabashed sequel, offering more of the same sound, attitude, and swagger, including titles that seem like rips on their predecessors and another Ray Davies cover. This gives the record a bit too much of a pat feeling, especially since the band seems to have a lost a bit of momentum -- they don't rock as hard, Chrissie Hynde's songwriting isn't as consistent, James Honeyman-Scott isn't as inventive or clever. These all are disappointments, yet this first incarnation of the Pretenders was a tremendous band, and even if they offer diminished returns, it's still diminished returns on good material, and much of Pretenders II is quite enjoyable. Yes, it's a little slicker and more stylized than its predecessor, and, yes, there's a little bit of filler, yet any album where rockers as tough as "Message of Love" and "The Adultress" are balanced by a pop tune as lovely as "Talk of the Town" is hard to resist. And when you realize that this fantastic band only recorded two albums, you take that second album, warts and all, because the teaming of Hynde and Honeyman-Scott was one of the great pairs, and it's utterly thrilling to hear them together, even when the material isn't quite up to the high standards they set the first time around.
[Edsel's 2015 reissue of the second Pretenders album contains much of the same material as Rhino's 2006 double-disc reissue. The main distinguishing factor is the addition of a DVD, which contains promo videos for "Talk of the Town," "Message of Love," "Day After Day," and "I Go to Sleep," plus Top of the Pops performances of "Message of Love" and "I Go to Sleep." All of the 18 bonus tracks from the 2006 reissue are here, albeit in a different order: this opens with the demos and mixes, then hits the live tracks from Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1981. There are two bonus tracks unavailable elsewhere: "In the Sticks" and "What You Gonna Do About It."]