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*** PRETENDERS "Packed!" Sire/Warner Bros. : Albums are rated from one star (poor) to five stars (a classic).

May 20, 1990|RICHARD CROMELIN

A submissive Chrissie Hynde? About as likely as a repentant Ollie North. Even when rock's top tough cookie goes begging for love, as she does for the bulk of "Packed!," she retains her inherent dignity and independence.

It's not easy, not when she pleads with a man to take her home and "give me a sense of purpose," or pitches a marriage proposal in no uncertain terms ("Let's Make a Pact"). Learning to crawl, indeed. But harnessed to the simple, potent Pretenders music (guitarist Billy Bremner is the prevailing musical presence this time around) and carried on one of rock's glorious voices, these pleas take on the urgency of a quest for salvation.

Like the last Pretenders album, 1986's "Get Close," melodic, mid-tempo tunes set the tone--"Packed!" is not out to forge major new directions. Not that you need many when you have Hynde's voice front-and-center.

On three pace-changing rockers she's clenched and agile, adding quirky little shapes to the melody lines. In the key ballads, though, she relies on an inner radiance. The free structure of "When Will I See You" brings out the best in her singing: an effortless union of emotion and instrument that expresses the ache of separation as winsomely as anything since Brian Wilson bared his soul on "Pet Sounds."

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