Taylor Momsen – Vocals
Jamie Perkins – Drums
Ben Phillips – Guitar
Mark Damon – Bass
1. Death by Rock and Roll
2. Only Love Can Save Me Now
3. And So It Went
5. My Bones
6. Got So High
8. Witches Burn
9. Standing At The Wall
10. Turning Gold
11. Rock And Roll Heaven
12. Harley Darling
The Pretty Reckless know rock and roll, it runs through their veins and pours out of every gritty note and every gravelly vocal. Taylor and crew have known grief and loss and what better way to channel this than the cathartic process of creating music?
Rather than let two significantly heart breaking events destroy them and everything they had built they rose from the ashes, dusted themselves off and took their battle worn hearts into the studio.
When you write out of pure emotional turmoil there is always a different level of authenticity; when you make the decision to fight back and take control it turns to magic.
There is new fire in the belly of The Pretty Reckless and it comes in the form of ‘Death By Rock and Roll’.
They may not have had producer Kato with them physically but it is he who walks them into the title track and opener on the record, quite literally – the song begins with a recording of his footsteps before bursting into a hard hitting riff with Taylor’s familiar voice crooning in the back ground. The riff subsides and that gritty deep vocal takes over, there’s a new quality to that voice its rich and effortless ”On my tombstone when I go, just put ‘Death by Rock and Roll’.”
“It has our whole mentality in the lyrics ,” Taylor says. “It’s not a morbid song. “It’s, ‘I’m going to live my way; I’m going out my way’. That’s the rock and roll ethic. It’s empowering”.
It takes strength to bring yourself back from the brink, and you can feel the emotion and determination in second track ‘Only Love Will Save Me Now’ bringing on board Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), adding a deeper significance and honouring Chris Cornell in the process with an almost six-minute guitar heavy, off beat killer of a track. It contains all the wonderful features of The Pretty Reckless that we have grown to know and love, with a new level of sound production and a greater understanding of song writing.
As we carry on our journey through ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ we find the usual toe-tapping, shoulder-bumping introductions that land us on a familiar and comforting footing. If anything, The Pretty Reckless know how to introduce a track within a matter of seconds. The third track, ‘And So It Went’, is no different. Full of swagger and attitude, and accompanied on guitar by none other than Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave), who adds his own distinct flavour to this already established musical meal. The album covers a broad range of emotion and different points in our lives. The highs and lows, the good times and bad times.
Leading us through a sombre and melancholy stroll through an ash covered street, track 04 – ’25’ feels like a stand out personal track. ‘At 25, all hope has died and the glass of my intentions turns to sand…shatters in my hand,’ Taylor sings, powerful in its delivery. The theme of age pops up throughout the record, and possibly hints at some deeper and more profound feelings from the singer. The end of the track’s severity is pushed aside for a more upbeat sound, reminiscent of the Beatles.
Sometimes, you run the risk of sounding a bit samey, and at first you get a slight feeling that this record might be just that. You know, that classic ‘The Pretty Reckless’ sound repeated again, which is by no means a bad thing, but you think ‘here we go again.’ That trail of thought is quickly pulverised and thrown aside, because it feels like every track has its own unique and distinctive sound. From the gritty and growling vocals of Taylor to the softer and breezier aspect of her nature. We are taken on a lazy, hazy saunter through a beautiful acoustic number, ‘Got So High,’ and it mellows us out in a smoke filled room, and weaves a tale of wanting success and finding it, only for it not to be as imagined. It’s a really nice change of pace from the album, completely out of place, but yet perfectly fits into to its own little slot between its surrounding tracks.
From roaring vocals, sombre funeral marches and brain tingling acoustic numbers, ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ is definitely an eclectic concoction of ingredients, that when mixed together all funnel into ‘Broomsticks’, a strange and spooky little interlude that sits happily, and creepily, into the middle of the record. ‘Tall hats, black cats, cauldrons brew,’ Taylor laments atop a spooky backing number, which would not be out of place in any old spooky kids cartoon. Much like the acoustic number before, it’s so out of place that it’s perfect, the record needs variation and we are given just that. Not only is ‘Broomsticks’ wonderfully eery as a standalone number, it also serves as the introduction for the next track, ‘Witches Burn.’ ‘Witches Burn’ weaves a tale of times gone by, hinting at the days of witch-fearing folk, locking their doors after dark and staying clear of those which walk at night. As much as it conjures a strong visual of witches and magic, you can’t help but feel that it serves as a metaphor for women in general, who are still stigmatised for living how they wish. ‘For this, I’ll burn,’ is chanted out during the chorus and it pushes a very strong message.
Heavy hitting guitars, spooky jingles and sitars feature here and there, and it’s hard to explain to yourself why all these things work, but they just do. The record seemingly transitions from attitude, to bizarre, to uplifting, and that definitely is prominent on the final tracks of the record. It is clear a journey has been taken here behind the scenes, for all these songs to be written and portrayed the way they have, but it works, it tells a story, and I’d be happy to listen again.
‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ is a nostalgic hit and seemingly looks back at younger life. The song serves us a heavy dose of feel good and sadness, a balancing act to take from it what you will. It uses the narrative of music to explain just how important music is, and that there is a ‘great gig in the sky’, but even after you’re dead and gone, the music lives on, which is both sombre and affirming at the same time. Great instrumental work backed by some glorious church organ plays out behind the scenes, and brings everything together nicely.
Finally, we must accept the inevitable and understand that our journey with ‘Death By Rock And Roll,’ has come to an end. Through what can only be described as a vortex of music and styles that change before you have chance to understand what you’ve just heard, you are landed rather firmly on a porch at sunset by a rocking chair and an old guitar, and your time with ‘The Pretty Reckless’ is going to be played out, country style, in their final track, ‘Harley Darling.’ The soft and saddening sounds of a harmonica sets the scene for this final song, before an acoustic guitar brings us front and centre. ‘Oh Harley darling, you took my love, you took him down a lonely road to the stars above,’ Taylor sings, hinting at the loss of a loved one. The song is beautiful, clear and clean, and is the perfect glass of whiskey to end the night after the rest of the album, it could not have been ended better.
Before listening to this album, I thought I would be in for another ‘The Pretty Reckless’ album, which in my mind is full of arse kicking, attitude smacking songs. In a way I was right, but not in the way I’d imagined. This whole album feels like a love letter, but a love letter to yourself. It’s personal, it’s gritty, it’s heart warming and crushing all at the same time, and it’s an absolute joy to experience and a credit to the ensemble of musicians who make up ‘The Pretty Reckless’. It’s a strange and wonderful journey, and I’m ready to take it again.
Review by Rebecca Bush
The Pretty Reckless – ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ is out now!