Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders' eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude. Although Chrissie Hynde establishes herself as a forceful and distinctively feminine songwriter, the record isn't a singer/songwriter's tour de force -- it's a rock & roll album, powered by a unique and aggressive band. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott never plays conventional riffs or leads, and his phased, treated guitar gives new dimension to the pounding rhythms of "Precious," "Tattooed Love Boys," "Up the Neck," and "The Wait," as well as the more measured pop of "Kid," "Brass in Pocket," and "Mystery Achievement." He provides the perfect backing for Hynde and her tough, sexy swagger. Hynde doesn't fit into any conventional female rock stereotype, and neither do her songs, alternately displaying a steely exterior or a disarming emotional vulnerability. It's a deep, rewarding record, whose primary virtue is its sheer energy. Pretenders moves faster and harder than most rock records, delivering an endless series of melodies, hooks, and infectious rhythms in its 12 songs. Few albums, let alone debuts, are ever this astonishingly addictive.
[Edsel's 2015 reissue of the first 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 "Stop Your Sobbing," "Kid," and "Brass in Pocket," plus the group's Top of the Pops and Swap Shop performances. Where the Rhino reissue shuttled all 16 bonus tracks onto a second CD, Edsel pushes six non-LP tracks onto the first disc -- including "Cuban Slide" and "Porcelain" from the 1981 EP Extended Play, plus a 1987 extended mix of "Kid" that didn't show up on the Rhino set -- then goes through the demos and live versions from the 2006 reissue. All the bonuses are excellent additions to an already superb album.]