Mystery Achievements

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They were the meatiest little band around -- a sassy American journalist steeped in the mythology of punk and the rent-a-thug cohorts she hauled out of the backwoods someplace and unleashed upon swinging London. Discovered by former Move manager Tony Secunda, produced by pub legend Nick Lowe, inspired by a host of '60s classic legends, but always buoyed by Chrissie Hynde's piss-and-vinegar persona and world view, the Pretenders raced effortlessly brilliant through their first album and singles and, though things got increasingly spotty thereafter, Hynde remained a formidable talent. Ranging through the band's entire career from a side of the sheets most people ignore, Mystery Achievements is the aptly named greatest-bits album the Pretenders always deserved. Hynde knows her audience after all, and there's a boxful of singles -- most of which became smashes -- which reveal everything she wants her public to know. But buried away on the B-sides or secreted on comps and tribute collections, that's where the real Chrissie Hynde lives: in a spirited slam through the Small Faces' biggest hit, a painfully tender Ray Davies demo, and garage band live tracks. She also does a lovely "Angel of the Morning," which is surprising, and a "Superstar" that knows it will never be as lovely as the Carpenters', so it doesn't even try. There are a couple of clinkers -- versions of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" and Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Sunday" suffer from Hynde's complete inability to grasp the irony of either, while Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" must have done something awful in a past life to merit being reincarnated like this. Hynde quickly makes amends, though -- fragile covers of the Beatles' "Not a Second Time" and Carole King's "Goin' Back" are as good as the songs deserve to be, and Mystery Achievements winds up the best Pretenders album in years -- and possibly the most revealing.

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