Revisiting Pretenders’ Comeback Album, ‘Last of the Independents’
By all accounts -- even her own -- Chrissie Hynde had lost her way. After the original lineup of the Pretenders had been destroyed by drugs and death, Hynde continued to trudge on, finding herself further and further from what made her band so good in the first place. By the late '80s and early '90s, that mix of punk energy and pop melodies had given way to middle-of-the-road, synth-rock.
A few years after an unsuccessful attempt at creating a Pretenders record with only session players (1990's Packed!), Hynde began to build a band again. She recruited former Katydids guitarist Adam Seymour, often compared to the late, great James Honeyman-Scott in his ability to both jangle and crunch. She brought on a couple of bass players named Andy -- ex-Smiths player Rourke, who would leave, and ex-Primitives musician Hobson, who would stay. By the end of the sessions for a new album, founding drummer Martin Chambers would find himself back in the Pretenders family, too.
That album would become Last of the Independents, which was hailed as a return to form when released at the apex of alternative rock's popularity, on May 10, 1994. Suddenly, in her mid-40s, Hynde was sharing the rock charts with many of the artists she helped inspire -- and she wasn't being treated like a grandma. How could she be, with a lead single like "Night in My Veins"? Everything about it was vintage Pretenders (a guitar-driven, mid-tempo rocker in which Hynde uses her sex appeal to discuss the appeal of sex) yet remained a slick, sharp, modern record primed for the airwaves. With this sly classic, Hynde sounded like she had rediscovered her sense of purpose.
In terms of commercial success, "Night in My Veins" had nothing on "I'll Stand by You," a power ballad smothered in studio excess: Strings! Echo effects! Gospel choir! More, more, more! But even with the production, Hynde's emotional performance sits at the center of the song, and no one can match her vulnerability.
But Last of the Independents wasn't interesting simply because of a couple of radio hits. What made it a welcome addition to the Pretenders' catalog was its confident versatility -- from the charging psychedelic rockabilly of "Rebel Rock Me" and howling funk of "I'm a Mother" to the soulful "977" and heartfelt "Revolution." It helps that Hynde was writing about what was most important in her private life at the time, whether it was her environmental efforts ("Revolution") or motherhood ("I'm a Mother" and "Every Mother's Son").
Even though Last of the Independents would be the band's last hit album, it reestablished Hynde as one of the great singers in rock, and returned the band to road prominence. It also helped create the band's most stable lineup. Hynde, Seymour, Hobson and Chambers would stay together for more than a decade.