THE PRETENDERS

Pretenders

Pretenders II

(Sire/Rhino)

Years before Madonna writhed on the ground and sullied her white wedding dress, Chrissie Hynde was the naughtiest girl on pop radio. By the time she debuted in the Pretenders, she had written rock criticism for NME and (wo)manned the counter at Malcolm McLaren's notorious SEX boutique, with her tough femme stance making them an early fixture on MTV. Yet as their taut, streamlined first two records get repackaged and expanded into double-disc affairs by Rhino, it hints at the crucial figure of these formative years. The first picture you see upon opening the card packaging is that of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, who OD'd on a mix of heroin and coke in the summer of 1982, effectively ending the first incarnation of the group. Thereafter, it would be Hynde's band first and foremost.

Honeyman-Scott's guitar tone has all the classic curves of a Jaguar, albeit one in a chop shop, sparks spraying and rough edges revealed at every lick, making him the ideal sonic foil to Hynde, the two propelled by the rhythmic chops of bassist Pete Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers. Sensual and tough, razor-sharp and sensitive, their debut is a new-wave classic. Songs like "Precious" and "Tattooed Love Boys" show the band is adept at rockabilly and punk, yet down with reggae's sway and lilt on hit "Brass in Pocket" and "Private Life."

Similarly structured as I, replete with Kinks cover (Hynde bore Ray Davies's love child along the way) the band ups the lascivious factor on II. As Hynde mewls about her scarlet letter and scarlet unmentionables on II's opener, "The Adultress," Honeyman-Scott's ringing harmonics caress every curve. Cracking cat-o'-nine-tails and whiplash velocity inform "Bad Boys Get Spanked," while "Message of Love" quotes Oscar Wilde—Hynde is at once wiser, yet tender like a virgin. ANDY BETA

BLACKBEARD

Strictly Dub Wize

1/2

I Wah Dub

(EMI/Astralwerks)

"He'd scrub a dub, tip a tone and bruk some bone with version galore by the score."

No, the above excerpt is not from that rare Dr. Seuss book wherein the Cat in the Hat doffs his stovepipe hat so as to don a tam knitted with Jamaican gold and green, but the liner notes to a dub album by Britain's own Lee "Scratch" Perry, Dennis Bovell. The Barbados-born Bovell was a cat of innumerable hats though, releasing music under such names as African Brothers, Matumbi, and 4th Street Orchestra, while also being a key shaper of lovers' rock (not to mention producing two post-punk classics, the Pop Group's Y and the Slits' Cut). So when it came time for Bovell to begin dropping befuddling dub slabs, he evoked not just his home island's history of pirates but his own beard, manning all the instrumentation as well as the mixing board as Blackbeard. His first, Strictly Dub Wize, was cut in 1978 and is a heavy though tricky affair, its bedrock of drum and bass trickling away in all directions like so much runoff. And while "River to Bank" is tethered by a piano line, most of the album deals with a new-fangled synthesizer being pulled and popped like bubblegum, with "Mint Ah Music" shooting analog-fart settings down a long echo chamber.

Most audacious, though, is his follow-up, 1980's I Wah Dub. Decades before Timbaland dribbled baby coos, electro synth settings, and Punjabi strings on his double-time beats, Blackbeard brazenly dogpiled tribal chants, cow lows, skipping records, snores, and doorbells on his riddims. Tracks like "Reflections" and "Oohkno" are extraordinarily pliant and rollicking dubs, the drums, bass, and piano whimsically dropped or contorted beyond recognition, the sweaty dub workouts bookended by all sorts of random daily noises iller than green eggs. ANDY BETA

THE BLOW

Paper Television

(K)

In a fair world, it wouldn't only be P!nk, Missy Elliott, and Eve getting all the credit for making catchy female-empowering dance-party tracks—the Blow's Khaela Maricich would also be on the receiving end of some of those props. Not only are her light but energizing synth-pop gems not as watered down (and over produced) as her Top 40 competition, but they're also much smarter than that crap about blowin' minds and gettin' parties started.

"All the girls, they're sittin' on a pile of gold/And the boys, you know they want it, they want it," Maricich sings in "Pile of Gold," the opening track on the Blow's new album, Paper Television. "They want it/It's economics!/They need the warmth that we export/Of course some boys will try to force the prices down by pushing girls around/I've seen them do this/Learn to see through this."

In other words, your milkshake is good for more than just bringing the boys to the yard.

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Also featuring Yacht's Jona Bechtolt (who has been an official part of the Blow since 2004's Poor Aim: Love Songs EP), Paper Television is more than party central with a hip drum-tracked beat (although Bechtolt really does supply some great beats and humble electronic flourishes). There's a charming and quirky Postal Service–esque love song ("Parentheses"), a sexy track about heartbeats and sweat ("Pardon Me"), and the precious French song "Bonjour Jeune Fille" that whirs with layers of noise by the end before segueing into the lullabyish "Babay (Eat A Critter, Feel Its Wrath)."

Ultimately, though, it's about the boys and being sharp enough to stay ahead of their games. In "The Long List of Girls," she sings "You don't have to do that rub up on me/Boy, I love you enough/You won't lose my love, just back away/Take that weapon and aim it at someone you'll stay with." Beyoncé, eat your heart out. MEGAN SELING