Pretenders records are hit-and-miss. It seems like Chrissie Hynde does her best work when her life turns difficult; for instance, her I’m-in-love record Viva El Amor! never really gels, while the subsequent not-only-am-I-not-in-love-but-he-was-an-assmunch release Loose Screw is chock full of great, pissed off music.
I’m not sure what was going on in her life when she gathered up the tunes that comprise 1994′s Last of the Independents, but it’s a really great record that I prefer over everything but their classic debut; and yeah, there’s a bit of MOR tripe on it (it was on this record that she first consulted LA “song doctor” Billy Steinberg, whose credits include work with Heart, Celine Dion, and – gulp – Madonna,) but the strong stuff is really strong; f’rinstance, the lead-off cut “Hollywood Perfume”.
Again, if I had to choose Hynde’s greatest song, I’d have to work through at least half a dozen cuts on the first album, but then I’d land on this through-a-glass-darkly view of 1990′s LA. Lyrically, it moves like a crane shot, from the writer’s hotel room, over the unused pool, through a seedy Hollywood night and down Sunset Boulevard to the infamous Brentwood Drive, where, in the midst of an earthquake, a dog’s bark punctuates murder.
One seeringly vivid, if uncomfortable stanza stands out:
Down on the strip beneath the billboard moon
Teenaged girls look for love in the
Neon sex and doom
Of your Hollywood perfume
The implication is that the protagonist’s lover is part of what Joni Mitchell’s “starmaker machinery” that chews up and spits out these would-be ingenues and hangers-on; and in the wider view, we’re all complicit in wallowing in and/or promoting that dizzy swoon of entertainment phoniness. The singer is unhappy with the fact that she, too, is under the spell of this slimeball and the racket he represents – later, she takes his picture and throws it from the balcony into the pool…which she finds funny, because he “likes his tan” but doesn’t like to swim.
And then, musically, you get one of the all-time great basslines; there can be no debate.
The bassist’s name is Andy Hobson, a London bloke who moved on from the band shortly after the recording.
Not long ago, I came across a live version of the song. I have no information about where or when it was recorded – but I was amazed at how powerful it is, even more so than the studio version. I’m sure you agree.
I’m not sure if Hynde wrote the bassline to this song, or if Hobson came up with it, but just try sitting still when it first rumbles out of your speakers. That it’s in the service of such a great song is gravy, really.