Artists are more often like soda than wine: bubbling with ideas in the beginning, losing their fizz over time, before going completely flat. So though Chrissie Hynde's led an eventful life — on hand for the Kent State shootings, worked for NME and Malcolm McLaren, befriended Sid Vicious, married and divorced Ray Davies and Jim Kerr — and written hits ("Brass in Pocket," "Talk of the Town," "Middle of the Road"), on each of her first three LPs, you'd be excused for having forgotten about her. She might still be a fierce performer, but in the two decades and four albums since 1986's Get Close, Hynde's caught only brief glimpses of her former glory.
After releasing 2002's Loose Screw, Hynde returned to her roots, which appeared to have sparked a creative rebirth. A few years ago, she took up partial residence in her hometown of Akron, Ohio (splitting time with London), and opened a nouveau Italian-vegetarian restaurant there called The Vegiterranean. Its sleek modern lines and stainless-steel style divulge Hynde's art school education (she worked at an architectural firm when she first moved to London in '73), and its motto ("World peace begins in the kitchen") reflects her long-standing activism on behalf of animals. The bottom of the menu notes "a vegan driving a Hummer has less impact on the environment than a meat eater on a bicycle."
She's taken an active role in Akron and on her 2008 release, Break Up the Concrete, she sounds more energized than anytime since the Pretenders' seminal self-titled debut. Four songs form the album's foundation, teasing the palate with a tasteful blend of hot-blooded rock bristle and world-wizened commentary as invigorating and original as her eatery's dishes. To wit:
Appetizer: Conservation of Karma Rockabilly Soufflé ("Boots of Chinese Plastic")
The album opens with peppery blasts of guitar and Bo Diddley rhythms, ladled over a medley of spiritually minded admonitions hailing tolerance, virtue, and patience. Hynde invokes the Buddhist phrase "Nam Myh Renge Ky," which expresses the universal ability to attain enlightenment, yet can't help but admire the shiny boots. An ode to the illusory flash that distracts us, it sizzles and sears but lasts no longer than a commercial break.
Soup: Self-Possessed Back-to-Basics Country Stew ("The Nothing Maker")
Coming directly after the fiery opener, this track offers a restrained, mid-tempo rootsy flavor that effectively contrasts the several spicy, heart-pounding rave-ups. Light jangle colors Hynde's gruff croon, as she posits a man who lives for his creed, not wealth or adoration. Pedal steel infuses the song with sepia tones harking back to simpler, less narcissistic times, melding with the acoustic drift and grainy warmth.
Entrée: Singed Life Filet with a Redemption Remoulade ("The Last Ride")
A sweet-and-sour piano ballad whose melodic surplus is countermanded by drummer Jim Keltner's driving, sympathy-less martial beat. The elegiac pungency is ringed by low, ooh-ing backing vocals, complementing the moribund circumspection like a downcast Greek chorus. With the horizon line closing, Hynde resolves "To stop dying, no more cheatin', no more lyin'," hoping to sop the juice of salvation with her final dinner roll.
Dessert: Cabaret-Dusted, Late-Night Truffle Shuffle ("Almost Perfect")
Keltner's jazzy meter brushes the traps like powdered sugar, limning Hynde's alternately pornographic and exulting opaean to hot-breathed pursuit and her old home. She conflates paranoiacs with oversize schlongs and love's transience with the homeless and "the best part of Ohio." An impressionistic circuit of lust and subdued regret, it begs its loves that they "don't ever change, you're almost perfect," turning longing into a dark little joke about life's inevitabilities — change and death, the album's twin themes.