Album Review: The Pretty Reckless “Death By Rock And Roll”
“Long time fans of The Pretty Reckless will rejoice with happiness hearing these songs and those unfamiliar with the band will fall in love with their sound.”
The Pretty Reckless led by Taylor Momsen made a major splash in the world of Rock music back in 2010 with their debut album Light Me Up. They successfully brought the music world to its knees, bowing to Momsen and company. The band’s 2014 full-length Going To Hell brought epic anthems which nabbed them Top 5 on the Billboard Top 200 along with three consecutive number 1 hits “Heaven Knows,” “Fucked Up World,” and “Follow Me Down.”
In 2017 the band was on a roller coaster and unknowingly the trajectory was headed into a downward spiral. However, this year in the band’s history would shape the group’s fourth album Death By Rock and Roll which is also the band’s debut on their new label Fearless Records.
The story is a fundamental part of not only the band’s past but also their present. The Pretty Reckless were on top of their game and landed a major U.S tour with rock legends Soundgarden. This tour was a huge highlight for Momsen as a vocalist, for her, like many of us, Chris Cornell was, is, and always will be a rock god. As the band was ripping across the country playing to packed venues, things took a dark turn after the Detroit date of the tour. As the show wrapped, the bands said their goodbyes like they did every other night but this night was different, this night would change Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless forever.
Chris Cornell took his life that night. Undoubtedly, this turn of events left a major impact on TPR. The band canceled most of their touring plans and Momsen buried herself in darkness at home. Eleven months later as it appeared Momsen was beginning to emerge again, the band was once again hit with news of the tragic passing of longtime friend and producer Kato in a motorcycle accident.
The turn of events opened up a world of depression and substance abuse with the question of whether Taylor, Ben, and The Pretty Reckless would ever write music again. The answer is yes and it comes in the form of Death By Rock And Roll.
The band entered the studio and after a year of making the record with producer Jonathan Wyman on May 15, 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic that canceled everything, The Pretty Reckless gave us the title track of the album “Death By Rock And Roll.” The track is the beginning of the band’s therapeutic healing process that is their fourth album. The song begins with the haunting recording of Kato’s footsteps followed by distorted bluesy riffs and a vocal anthem that controls the chorus “On my tombstone when I go, just put, Death By Rock And Roll.”
The track soared to number one and lifted the band back to the top of the rock world where they left off in 2017.
Death By Rock And Roll showcases not only Momsen’s maturity as a vocalist and bandleader but even more impressive are Momsen’s and guitarist Ben Phillips’ songwriting on the album. The dynamics of the record make listening to the album a journey. It’s a story both lyrically and instrumentally that guides you through a tremendous amount of emotions.
It’s undoubtedly lyrically one of the most personal, open, and honest songwriting Taylor has ever shown the world, carried unapologetically by instrumentals that go from hard rock, to blues and at times even some country tunes.
On “Only Love Can Save Me Now” we are graced by grungy guitars paying homage to the likes of Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, etc. The track is a wild flashback to everything we love about 90s grunge. The chorus is strong, catchy, and supported by a building melody before taking things next level into a guitar solo that makes it impossible to move your head to. The Rock N Roll vibes continue on “And So It Went” which is quite reminiscent of the band’s own anthem “Heaven Knows” the song comes complete with thunders drums, a roaring guitar solo by the one and only Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, and a gang chorus featuring an onslaught of children.
The Grunge vibe towards the start of Death By Rock And Roll is really not a surprise. Aside from Tom Morello, The Pretty Reckless also worked with Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden.
“25” is the first introduction to a ballad on the record and also the album’s second single. The track gave me a similar vibe to Light Me Up era “Just Tonight.” The track has a James Bond vibe and a progressive rock chorus which is an early signature of The Pretty Reckless we’ve come to know and love from them.
Military-like drums lead the way on “My Bones,” it’s heavy in its own way and Momsen’s vocal strength shines on the track. You get the classic vocal sound but also a taste of the bluesy raspy vocals we’ve become more familiar with from the band’s later work. The band switches gears on the acoustic-led “Got So High,” a song that really showcases the band’s songwriting growth. Momsen’s vocals are vulnerable, angelic, and beautifully delivered all throughout the track.
“Broomsticks” is a haunting interlude leading to the power punch rocker that is “Witches Burn.” Bold lyrics and a roaring chorus project a confident and sultry vision of Momsen. The song is Taylor having an I don’t care badass moment unapologetically and Phillips once again takes it on a ride with a killer guitar solo.
The slower yet equally important “Standing At The Wall” once again provides a peek into Momsen’s mature and vulnerable songwriting on this album which, in my opinion, is a really beautiful touch that makes Death By Rock And Roll a complete package. The track which transforms from its acoustic start to a power ballad format with enchantingly power string arrangements is an unexpected standout song on the record.
“Turning Gold,” shows Momsen’s influences ranging from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin with a 70s kind of rock feel. It’s an optimistic anthem with a strong chorus and powerful buildups that leave you not wanting the track to ever end.
The southern rock inspired “Rock and Roll Heaven” pays homage to those who’ve come before and inspired Taylor Momsen and company to be where they are today. The track is without question the band’s way of thanking their rock and roll forefathers, and from vocals to instrumentals, drum, guitar, and bass all deliver on making this a memorable and standout track on the album.
Death By Rock And Roll’s closing track “Harley Darling” builds off of the previous track’s southern rock vibes and sprinkles in some country music twang to it. It’s a fitting send-off for an album that gives us such a personal view of the band’s journey over the past four years leading up to The Pretty Reckless and their fourth album.
The Pretty Reckless’s unapologetic, unwavering honesty on Death By Rock And Roll is what makes this album a rock and roll classic in the making. Taylor Momsen, Ben Phillips, Jamie Perkins, and Mark Damon deliver an emotional, powerful, gutsy record with something for everyone. Long time fans of The Pretty Reckless will rejoice with happiness hearing these songs and those unfamiliar with the band will fall in love with their sound.
The Pretty Reckless Death By Rock And Roll is available everywhere Friday, February 12th, 2021.