Review Summary: A solid, excellent sophomore album that would sadly be the original lineup's final offering.
PRETENDERS II is an excellent album when appraised on its own merits, but does fall a little short in recapturing the magic of their fantastic debut. I can vividly remember hearing the entire album debuted on an Albany, NY FM station in August 1981 and was quite excited about this release. My initial feeling at the time was that the album started quite strong, but the songs on the second half weren’t quite as potent, yet still enjoyable.
The album’s impact was also lessened by the early release of its two strongest cuts – “Message Of Love” and “Talk Of The Town”, which were included on the EXTENDED PLAY mini-album put out in March 1981. There is also a sense that they are trying too hard to repeat some of the winning formula in covering another Kinks song – this time “I Go To Sleep”. Also, “Bad Boys Get Spanked”, which is a highlight, seems at least vaguely reminiscent of “Tattooed Love Boys”.
Once you’ve located all of those reasons why PRETENDERS II isn’t equally as powerful as their debut, you may also begin to realize that it is still quite a fine record. Chrissie Hynde’s lyrics are still quite alluring on the opening cuts “The Adultress” and “Bad Boys Get Spanked” or even wryly amusing on “Pack It Up”. “Day After Day”, a song about the seemingly never ending grind of touring, is another fine hard rocker showcasing some nice guitar work from James Honeyman-Scott. The ballads “I Go To Sleep” and “Birds Of Paradise” are so mellow they could easily serve as lullabies, but provide some balance to the album.
Time has only made me grow fonder of this album, especially given that this was the final artistic statement by the original incarnation of The Pretenders lineup. Losing Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott both to drug overdoses within a year still seems unfathomable. There was a wonderful chemistry here within the original band that would be forever lost to us with these dual tragedies. Therefore, I’m thankful to have this final full length album from the original band and have become more forgiving its minor faults.
[The Deluxe Edition release of this album includes an excellent concert from Santa Monica, California, September 1981, that was originally broadcast live as it happened. I was fortunate enough to hear this show aired live and was sure to record it on cassette for posterity. Having this upgraded and remastered version of the Santa Monica show was definitely a bit plus, as it was a memorable performance.]