ALBUM REVIEW: The Pretty Reckless – ‘Death By Rock N Roll’

Words by – Tracey Moyle Music Maven

The Pretty Reckless released their four studio album ‘Death By Rock n Roll’ and the title screams louder that the massive tracks themselves.

To say the last few years have been hard for the band would be a massive understatement.

The 2017 death of Chris Cornell hit the music world hard and The Pretty Reckless were right there staring one of the darkest times, in this music generation’s history, right in the face. The band were touring with Soundgarden, playing a gig that very night. Less than a year later the band’s good friend and longtime producer Kato Khandwala was killed in a motorcycle accident. This album is the result of a heartbreakingly turbulent few years for The Pretty Reckless.

In an interview with Kerrang, vocalist Taylor Momsen spoke about losing her best friend Khandwala; “I got to a place where I kind of gave up. I gave up on everything – on life, on music, I was looking at everything and going, ​‘What’s the fucking point? Everything I love is dead. What’s the point of anything?’ And eventually, I kind of put myself into my own isolation, which maybe was not the best idea.

The album obviously is incredibly personal and introspective, but this doesn’t take away the rock n roll energy that we have seen from the band since their first album Light Me Uphit the ground in 2010. There are also some good friends joining them on this album, lending a musical depth to the album fans haven’t yet heard.

You get exactly what you want to hear from the band in the albums opening title track, Momsen’s sultry but explosive vocals, a welcome sonance. An eruption of rock you’d only expect to hear from these New Yorkers. The song is an ode to not only their friends but all who have died living the rock n roll life.

The next two tracks have guest artists bringing a new depth. Only Love Can Save Me Now was recorded in Seattle at London Bridge Studios, the very same place that produced Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ and Soundgarden’s ‘Louder Than Love. The song features Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron on additional drums and Kym Thayil adding his unique guitar signature to the track. No doubt a homage to Cornell, one of the most admired and loved musicians of our time. The heaviness of the track will guide your memory straight to a time when grunge changed music forever.  Lyrically you hear the weight of life felt by the band.

“From the sound, the sound
The world is spitting out
Only love can save me now
Gone so down, lost is all I found
Only love, love, love can save me now”

– Only Love Can Save Me Now –

Another heavy hitter joining the guest list, Tom Morello lending his talent on guitar and vocals for And So It Went, contributing to one belter of a track. Travelling through heavy hitting peaks and electrifying solo’s Morello doesn’t hold back. With Momsen’s commanding vocals leading the charge of this ‘horns to the sky’ heavy hitter you get one hell of a rock song.

A solemn hook opens 25. Momsen’s sublime vocals bring this ethereal track to life. Her beautiful range carries a subdued power. This is a hauntingly beautiful song with a sombre retrospective look at the infamous 27 club. Momsen has confirmed in an interview that she wrote the song at 25, acknowledging that it was unlikely she would be a part of the exclusive club (thankfully). The track itself carries so much ambience it almost sounds like a Bond Movie theme.

A hypnotic, shamanic-like drum beat hooks you into My Bones. The song – a tale, the dynamic front-woman the narrator. And like any good story it builds to a dramatic climax coming alive through the chorus. The change of pace three quarters in has a Blondie-esque feel and is like a musical twist in the tale, taking you through to an epic progressive rock style ending. 

From here the album starts to move direction. Got So High still embraces the heavy-heartedness of the album, but at a more subdued pace. A melancholic track touching on losing your way, you can feel the songs intent, the resignation of surrendering to life. This is followed by the shortest song on the album. The creepy undertones in Broomsticks is more like an interlude for a Tim Burton film. Sitting midway, that may have been the intention. You almost expect a tale of horror to follow.

And it does. The slow cadence of Witches Burn tells a horror story, but its power is in its truth. The Witch Trials may have occurred over 300 years ago but the effects of misguided beliefs and patriarchal rule sadly still a continuous fight for many today. With a grunge drenched riffs, the track embraces the slow burn and steady cadence of ’90s alt rock.  Momsen’s voice has a vocal command that has the listener aware of the solemn undertones of the song, but not without a hint of defiance.

Diversity is what The Pretty Reckless do best, and they carry out the album doing exactly this. Standing At The Wall, is a hauntingly beautiful acoustic and a great accompaniment to soulful vocals. Followed by Turning Gold with crisp guitar riffs, and a musically progressive build embodying a ‘70s classic rock feel (I can imagine Paul Rogers belting this out). This track is like the albums rebirth, lifting the mood with an inspirational realisation. Rock n Roll Heaven is the rock ballad ‘Death By Rock n Roll’ had to include. With big vocals, solo’s full of emotive riffs and another dedication to Khandwala.

Well, I learned a long, long time ago that life is like a song,
And the music goes on playing even after you are gone
But to live so fast just to die so young
I hope you found some peace
Everything I am today is what you made me

– Rock n Roll Heaven –

Harley Darling takes the album out with an injection of Eagles style country rock. The song again is written for Khandwala, who died on a Harley Davidson in 2018. Momsen puts her heart into this track singing about a Harley taking her to California in order to see her friend one last time. The death of Khandwala effected Momsen in a such a profound way and this album is the result.

What you get from ‘Death By Rock n Roll’ is what The Pretty Reckless do best, rock in all its forms. From heavy grunge-laden riffs to classic rock hooks, from theatrical rock to an almost country rock element this album has the band wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The five year gap between albums was worth the wait.

Death By Rock n Roll’ Is out now on all streaming services.
Listen/Download HERE

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With thanks to Sony Music Australia and Dallas Does PR

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