In "Complex Person," a reggae-metered song from the Pretenders' eighth studio album, "Loose Screw," Chrissie Hynde sings that she'll do anything "to make you adore me or deplore me but never ignore me." If there's desperation in the line itself, there is also a note of resignation in Hynde's reading of it. As one of the few groups in the annals of pop who can confidently lay claim to an absolutely perfect debut album, The Pretenders quickly lost their identity as a band after two members died and Hynde became a mother and a wife. The music was thought to have declined in quality as a result, and each subsequent album has been met by people who always wondered if it's The Pretenders' "comeback," as if Hynde were expected to resurrect the group that made the debut.
So let's not call "Loose Screw" a comeback, but rather a record where all of Hynde's best qualities are realized to their fullest. Having learned something from Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the hired songwriting guns who gave the Pretenders their last hit (1994's "I'll Stand By You") and who penned almost half of 1999's "Viva El Amor," Hynde and cowriter-guitarist Adam Seymour augment the pair's two contributions with nine hook-infested pop songs, any of which would make a great single if it were 1980 again and people still wanted to hear Pretenders' singles. Trading the spiky confidence of those early songs for a more mature musical assurance, the compositions bristle with melodic ideas that dovetail perfectly with Hynde's snarl, which has lost none of its fierce seductiveness even when it's in the service of goopy sentiments.
When it serves something emotionally richer, it gets downright thrilling. The sudden dramatic shift from angry confrontation in "Lie to Me" to sexual come-on in "Time," without any change in rhythmic tack, delivers a shot of adrenalin. The totally brilliant "I Should Of" gathers momentum through Seymour's quietly insistent guitar and Hynde's increasingly desperate realization that she's taken her lover for granted. "I, I, I, I, I, I, I should have known," she sings in the chorus. That's seven I's, and not one of them is wasted.