After nine Pretenders albums, most of them recorded with only one other original band member, Chrissie Hynde is finally releasing her first solo effort, and, ironically, it’s her most collaborative work to date. Hynde doesn’t touch a single instrument: Björn Yttling of Swedish trio Peter Björn and John produces, co-writes and supplies most of the music on nine of Stockholm‘s 11 songs; his bandmate John Eriksson provides drums. The other two are produced, co-written and feature playing from Joakim Åhlund of the Caesars and Teddybears. There’s a string quartet on five tracks, and Neil Young supplies obdurate, unmistakably Young-ish guitar on “Down the Wrong Way.” Tennis superstar John McEnroe even contributes stinging six-string leads to “A Plan Too Far.”
Hynde was wise to surrender some control: Yttling’s post-modern pop touch is everywhere, and it almost always flatters, combining contemporary indie and classic-rock styles with a vibe that’s both muted and eloquent. Many of the performances are rougher than the Pretenders at their most casual, and so is their presentation: Hynde’s one-of-a-kind voice is close and clear on every cut, unfiltered and untreated.
She’s singing through the experience of her 62 years, but what comes out isn’t at all grandmotherly. “I’ve become what I criticized,” she reflects in “Down the Wrong Way,” “the porn queen in my deck of lies.” “I’m in love with a bum,” she admits in “Sweet Nuthin’.” Rockers like “Dark Sunglasses” affirm she’ll never go completely soft, but the ballads here are nevertheless the best: She floats through “Tourniquet (Cynthia Ann)” as if she’d always been destined for psych-folk, and on the Åhlund-helmed conclusion “Adding the Blue,” Hynde mournfully contemplates a lover’s departure like an artist who’s lost her model. Her portrait may be unfinished, yet she’s left with her most fully-realized album in decades.