B-Mac Album Review: The Pretty Reckless, Death By Rock and Roll

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy

You are a seductress…Miss Momsen. You are the Queen of sinful rock! When people think of Taylor Momsen, they automatically go to either Cindy Lou Who from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Jenny Humphrey from the CW’s Gossip Girl. However, when I think of her, it is usually as the seductive frontwoman of the hard rock outfit she created, The Pretty Reckless. Growing to bands like Nirvana, Oasis, and Led Zeppelin to name a few, she hooked up and started writing music with producer Kato Khandwala and her future guitarist Ben Phillips. With three albums in the can, Momsen and her rock brothers have become exalted on the rock circuit. They just signed a new deal with Fearless Records and as a result, the fans get their most ambitious album yet, Death By Rock and Roll. 

The album jumps starts with the title track, “Death By Rock and Roll.” Released back in May 2020, it serves as a tribute to both Chris Cornell and Kato, who passed away after a motorcycle accident. Straightforward, in your face, and unapologetic is how to describe Momsen’s incredible vocals in this tune. Phillips masterfully churns out a wicked solo that is amazing. “Only Love Can Save Me Now” is pure heavy grunge as Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron make an appearance. Momsen incorporates a dark, bluesy voice that sounds seductively sinister. Bassist Mark Damon gets a little twangy on the beats that goes along attractively with the beats of Jamie Perkins’ drums. The solo Thayil throws is so old school Soundgarden, and I love it. “And So It Went” is raging rocking number where Phillips duels it out on guitar with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Perkins performs a crushing beat that is very turbulent. Momsen is angelic in the bridge, but when she is in verses and chorus, the She-Devil comes out to play. The melancholy ballad “25” is ominously gorgeous. The haunting lyrics give praise that she is still around after a quarter of a century on this Earth. The way Momsen’s vocals carry in this song is awe-inspiring.

“My Bones” returns the Pretty Reckless to the lands of heavy rock. Perkins is steady and precise on the snare while Phillips erupts on the chorus with a buoyant riff. I love how Momsen builds up her, subtle during verses before exploding in the chorus. Death By Rock and Roll takes a left turn with “Got So High.” This song is pure poetry driven by acoustic riff layered evenly with Phillips’ tender solo. The way I interpret the lyrics is that Momsen got high off the fame she received; only to find it can be lethal as well. Her voice goes to different ranges and it works in her favor. Spooky “Broomsticks” helps usher in a coven that is “Witches Burn.” It is a potent mix of sludge and alternative metal. The drawn out guitar licks are drenched with Black Sabbath style riffs, as if Tony Iommi wrote it himself. This song features one of my favorite solos off the album. Momsen is willing to burn, but she leaves stronger and unscratched. “Standing At the Wall” is even more somber than “Got So High.” Momsen strips down her voice and sounds attractive while strumming her acoustic. At 2:30, cue in the strings and we go into an epic ballad. She says she is small, but at the end, she stands taller than before.

“Turning Gold” has a riff that fuses mid-tempo 80s rock with Austin Blues. It is as if The Doors and Tesla collaborated with Gary Clark Jr. to make the groove more seething. Perkins and Damon are dynamic on the beat while Phillips sears. “Rock and Roll Heaven” is twangy and pleasant from the lyrics to the beat. Momsen pays tribute to the artists that have helped shape her like Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Cornell. All the legends are dancing in harmony to this stellar tune. This is probably the group’s best work. The album finishes strong with “Harley Darling.” Alternative rock swag mixed with a country like beat makes this ballad sound very Americana. Reminds me of the early stuff of John Mellencamp as Momsen looks to ride into the sunset on her Harley, feeling rapturous.

I do not know why they called the album Death By Rock and Roll because the Pretty Reckless have sounded so alive. Personally, this record is major improvement over 2016’s Who You Selling For. Momsen and her boys are tighter with the songwriting process as you hear the joy in the music they put together. They do a brilliant job taking the elements of different rock sounds and paying homage to those paved the way for young, hungry groups. She continues to astound me as a singer, shedding her Cindy Lou Who life behind her for something grander. Once live shows return, I will be getting high off their rock and roll. To the Pretty Reckless, I salute you. Horns up!!!

10/10

Track Listing:

01. Death By Rock And Roll
02. Only Love Can Save Me Now
03. And So It Went
04. 25
05. My Bones
06. Got So High
07. Broomsticks
08. Witches Burn
09. Standing At The Wall
10. Turning Gold
11. Rock And Roll Heaven
12. Harley Darling

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