The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll
Release: February 12, 2021
Taylor Momsen – Vocals, rhythm guitar
Ben Phillips – Lead guitar, backing vocals
Jamie Perkins – Drums
Mark Damon – Bass
Grief. Loss. Strength in new beginnings.
New York rockers The Pretty Reckless were stricken with the loss of loved ones, touring with Soundgarden in 2017 when Chris Cornell tragically passed away. This was followed just 11 months later by the death of long-time friend and late producer Kato Khandwala, who died in a motorcycle accident. Yet, they’ve channelled all that grief and suffering powerfully into the making of fourth album Death By Rock And Roll, a hard-hitting record that combines the best of albums past, while paying tribute to the fallen.
Album opener ‘Death By Rock And Roll’ kickstarts the album in high gear, a fitting tribute to Khandwala, who always used to say he wanted ‘Death by rock and roll’ engraved on his tombstone. The track features a blistering solo from guitarist Ben Phillips, as well as commanding vocal intensity from Taylor Momsen, with moments ranging from magnetic low drawls to high octane wails and snarls.
‘Only Love Can Save Me Now’ slows down the pace with more of a plodding drum beat. Momsen’s voice takes on more of a sinister tone here, which lends itself well to the track. It’s a song rich with vocal harmonies, contributing to an altogether full-bodied sound. There’s also particularly intricate guitar work from Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil. The combined presence of Thayil and fellow Soundgarden member Matt Cameron is a truly powerful nod to Cornell, adding weight to the record.
Third track ‘And So It Went’ creeps up on you with eerie sounds before the guitar and a resonating drum beat kick in. There’s a strong feeling that the ceiling’s about to cave in as Momsen cries, ‘And the bullets start to fly/And the bar’s about to break/Want to hear them cry/It’s too much for me to take’. A particularly beautiful moment comes when it’s just a cooing Momsen – delivering a surprising sweetness – and Phillips’ stripped back guitar. Following this is a truly tasty solo from Rage Against The Machine axe man Tom Morello, who takes you on a sonic highway (with all the climbs and descents).
Autobiographical tune ’25’ slows it down once more but maintains the intensity, and Momsen’s gritty, sultry voice takes centre stage here. It’s a song that would fit beautifully on a Bond movie soundtrack, being lyrically one of the most poignant songs on the record that, with Momsen’s stellar delivery, conveys the feeling of someone deep in despair. Yet with a glimmer of hope.
From there, things get a little bluesy – harking back to third album Who You Selling For – with ‘My Bones’, which starts at a slow gallop. The track is one of the most dynamic songs on the album, featuring a pace and tonal shift reminiscent of ‘Sweet Things’ from the band’s second album Going To Hell.
Now ‘Got So High’ is where the album’s tone changes significantly. The ballad and Momsen’s vocal stylings wouldn’t be out of place on their debut LP Light Me Up. Then ‘Broomsticks’ serves as a delightfully sinister interlude transitioning well into ‘Witches Burn’. Here we get a healthy injection of bluesy vibes, and the song is lyrically a standout, oscillating between being unapologetically raw and darkly poetic.
There’s plenty of vulnerability on Death By Rock And Roll, but this particular side of the band shines on ballad ‘Standing At The Wall’. It’s a track that fully conveys a feeling of desolation in its bare bones. Here Momsen reminisces about childhood innocence as she sings fondly but brokenly, ‘A lot of la-di-da-da-da’s when we were young/With no memories to weigh us down and life was fun’.
After the the more positive and ultimately empowering ‘Turning Gold’, ‘Rock And Roll Heaven’ has a country rock feel conjuring up images of Momsen sitting in a chair, telling you an old childhood story. The song pays homage to music greats including The Beatles, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison (The Doors), painting Momsen’s vivid image of a ‘garden full of sound’.
The record rounds off with ‘Harley Darling’, a loving tribute to Khandwala. Beautiful harmonica opens the song, keeping that country vibe going. The tune is reflective of Momsen’s reverence for her friend and ultimately her feeling of aching loneliness. This is accentuated by the tenderness delivered by the rest of the band members, deepening the sense of connection to Khandwala. The sounds of a motorcycle engine revving poignantly add to the feeling of saying goodbye to an old friend.
Somewhat contradicting its title, Death By Rock And Roll shows a group of people who have been through the ringer, yet remain very much alive. There’s also a nod to every previous era of The Pretty Reckless, which in the end helps to produce a fresh and powerful result.
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll tracklisting:
1. Death By Rock And Roll
2. Only Love Can Save Me Now (feat. Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil
3. And So It Went (feat. Tom Morello)
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