Call the Doctor

Anyone who thinks this renders Chrissie Hynde a poseur should get the lowdown on Hank Williams's closed-door sessions with Fred Rose, then recall that Ol' Hank didn't have even his name on "Lovesick Blues." Instead, believe the credits and assume Hynde came first, as boss and auteur. When she wanted an "I'll Stand by You," because she was feeling soppy or meretricious or just plain weak, she went to none other than Steinberg-Kelly and perfected "I'll Stand by You." Now—and for fun let's give props to her 1996 marriage, to a guy she says inspired her to kick a six-spliffs-a-night ganja habit—she's determined to breach the radio with two less self-abnegating and idealistic close-ups of the love bond. Would you know she hadn't accomplished this alone if you hadn't had access to a scorecard? Not likely.

Maybe, though, we should ponder "Popstar" one more time. After all, when Hynde says they don't make 'em like they used to, the "they" isn't supposed to signify Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, nor the "'em" Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar and Cyndi Lauper yet also Meredith Brooks and Chynna Phillips and Samantha Coles. And even if we consider such flights of defiant rhetoric essential to Hynde's musical health—we don't pay her to be right, we pay her to be vivacious and fuck-you—let us note the plight of a younger band led by a strong, blatantly emotional woman. Remember the Cranberries? Like Hynde's nemesis, they set about selling a million units of their dream-pop just to prove they could, and proceeded forthwith to Armageddon. On their second album they averaged 30 seconds longer per song, expending this bloat on portentous intros that went nowhere, and on their third they discovered politics without ever approaching a "My City Was Gone." They got big-headed. They did fashion spreads. They almost broke up. They became a joke. So I'm here to report that on the phoenixlike Bury the Hatchet they've regained most of their form—13 songs in 47 minutes, tunes included. The lyrics could be dreamier, though; a few of the constructions could use a new bridge. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture for Hynde to ring up Dolores O'Riordan and give her Dr. Steinberg's phone number?

While he's overseas, he could look up Elastica too.

The Pretenders play Bowery Ballroom May 23.

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