When Pretenders Rushed Out ‘Pretenders II,’ Then Fell Apart
In some ways, little had changed for the Pretenders as they gathered to record their second album.
The lineup of Chrissie Hynde, Pete Farndon, Martin Chambers and James Honeyman-Scott remained. In fact, despite the breakout success of their self-titled 1980 debut, Hynde was still regularly gripped by stage fright.
"I feel like people want me to make a mistake," she told People in 1981. "I don't feel big time. I'm, like, just passing through."
The same sense of apprehension governed Pretenders II, a rushed and somewhat too-similar album that arrived on Aug. 15, 1981, with all of the built-in disadvantages of a sequel. Hynde wrote 11 familiar-sounding songs – then paired them, once again, with a cover from boyfriend Ray Davies' catalog.
In the end, the whole enterprise seemed reheated, like something that held too much reverence for what came before. But this time, Hynde's lyrics weren't as cutting, and Honeyman-Scott's playing felt more careful.
As a result, Pretenders II slipped six places from its predecessor's chart peak, finishing at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, while selling roughly half as many copies as the platinum-certified debut. They logged three Top 20 hits during this era, yet something seemed to be missing.
That something was time. “Our first LP was very special," Chambers told Trouser Press in 1983. "The second album was more difficult because Chrissie had no time to write. She has to be relaxed to write, and we were on the road all the time."
Listen to the Pretenders Perform 'Day After Day'
Working the concert circuit to make good on the soaring promise of their first album, the Pretenders issued two stand-alone singles in 1980 and early 1981, "Talk of the Town" and "Message of Love." Pressed for more product, they then packaged those tracks together with three quickly assembled other songs to form 1981's Extended Play EP.
Just two months later, Pretenders II arrived, further hobbled by the fact that two of its best songs had already been released.
A deep cut called "Day After Day" seemed emblematic of where the Pretenders were, both professionally and personally. Hynde hinted at a band's life in a dizzying rush from hotel and gig to hotel and gig, unable to get a handle on their own fate. It all eventually came to a tragic end.
Hynde grew further apart from Farndon and Honeyman-Scott as she began to straighten up her life. On tour in support of Pretenders II, Farndon told People that she'd limited herself to nothing harder than wine. Her bandmates, however, were going in the opposite direction.
"The image of me as a hard-drinking, hard-living rock 'n' roll bitch had become obnoxious," Hynde told Rolling Stone in a 1984 interview. "It really started occurring to me that I hated myself. Every morning I'd look in the mirror and think, 'You f---in' asshole. How did you get home? Who brought you here? Where were you?' ... I had to get it together."
Then the Pretenders were forced off the road after Chambers injured his hand in late 1981. Farndon, who had been shooting heroin since the Pretenders' first U.S. tour the year before, descended so far into addiction that he was kicked out of the band in June 1982. Two days later, Honeyman-Scott died of a cocaine overdose. Farndon, still addicted to smack, was also dead within the year.
Hynde had to start over, and when the Pretenders resurfaced, a new lineup, and outlook, was in place.