There was a two-year gap between The Pretenders second and third album. In that time, the band fronted had noticeably changed. Losing two members to drug overdoses can do that to a band.
Actually, Pete Farndon had been fired from The Pretenders because of his drug abuse; he died from a heroin overdose almost immediately afterward. Two days after Farndon’s death, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott would overdose on cocaine.
I thought that with the loss of Farndon and Honeyman-Scott, The Pretenders were through, but the band, led by Chrissie Hynde, forged on. A little over a year after that double tragedy, The Pretenders released the double A side single “Back on the Chain Gang”/”My City was Gone” with temporary replacements. “Learning to Crawl” came out a year after that. The album included “Back on the Chain Gang” and “My City was Gone” as well as eight new songs. The new songs featured the official new line-up of The Pretenders, who appear on the album’s cover.
The influence that James Honeyman-Scott’s unique guitar style had on the first two Pretenders albums is noticeably missing here. The songs are also a little less edgier than the earlier records and the album as a whole, takes less risks. That’s not to say it’s not as good as its predecessors. It’s just different; more straightforward.
I always thought “Learning to Crawl” was an appropriate name for The Pretenders’ third album. They were coming back from two back to back tragedies that nearly destroyed them. During the two years of its making, they were trying to find their footing again. They wanted to walk forward and continue on. But before you can walk, you have to learn to crawl.