Pretenders – Learning To Crawl (vinyl edition)

Pretenders – Learning to Crawl (Rhino)

Pivotal album from Chrissie Hynde & Co gets vinyl reissue

The third Pretenders album arrived in 1984.  It was their biggest success, but it was also shrouded in sadness.  The band was carrying on after the deaths of both guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon (both from drug overdoses).  What emerged was a more mature sound, but not sacrificing any of the grit of their previous two LP’s.  Learning to Crawl has just been reissued on vinyl featuring a 2018 remaster by original producer, Chris Thomas.

The album leads off with the biting, “Middle of the Road” – drummer Martin Chambers sounds like he’s firing bullets from his snare as he starts a frenetic tempo.  The track also features a stellar, off-kilter guitar solo from Robbie McIntosh, and a great bass solo from Malcolm Foster, both new members of the band for this album.  Next up is the tender, jangly masterpiece, “Back on the Chain Gang,” originally issued two years before featuring Billy Bremner on guitar and Tony Butler on bass.  It’s a fitting tribute to Honeyman-Scott, and is the band’s biggest hit.

The maturity definitely shows in the character sketch, “Time the Avenger” – Hynde’s writing was becoming more nuanced.  Of course, there’s nothing subtle about “Watching the Clothes Go Round,” a revved-up piece about the boredom of domestic life.  Side one closes with one of Hynde’s greatest ballads, “Show Me.” The guitars here just shimmer and her vocals are gorgeous.

Side two opens with the country shuffle of “Thumbelina,” before another of the band’s most-famous tracks, “My City Was Gone” – Hynde spits out lyrics bemoaning her return to her hometown of Akron, and how things had changed, over a cleverly echoed drumbeat. The band has often included at least one cover song, and “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is an interesting choice.  Hynde turns in a soulful vocal that rivals the original, done by the Persuasions.  Paul Carrack guests on piano on this track.

“I Hurt You” is maybe the weakest song here.  Hynde’s vocals have a heavy flange effect on them, and there are multiple tracks of her singing at the same time.  It doesn’t really go anywhere (but does feature a nice McIntosh solo at the end).  The album closes with the wistful, “2000 Miles,” which has received heavy airplay as a holiday single.

As for the fidelity of this new, vinyl remaster – in a side-by-side comparison with my original, 40-year old copy, the new pressing seems more balanced (my original has too much high end). On  “Back on the Chain Gang,” the bass is more prominent.  “Show Me” has a lot more low and high end on the new version.

This is about as faithful a reissue you can get. There’s no new liner notes, and the only difference in the front and back cover is the absence of the Sire records logo.  They also reproduced the inner sleeve, which features some cool band photos.  Another nice touch is the actual label on the LP record also correctly reproduces the original, which had composites of both the front and back cover on it.  

Learning to Crawl is a great album from one of the Eighties most under appreciated bands, the Pretenders.  — Tony Peters