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The Pretty Reckless - Death By Rock And Roll (Album Review)

Friday, 19 February 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Following the deaths of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and her long-time producer Kato Khandwala, Taylor Momsen was consumed by an existential crisis. Depression and substance abuse took hold of the singer, until the music she first fell in love with pulled her out. As such, ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ isn’t just a fearless soundtrack to Momsen’s survival, it’s also a wonderfully written ode to the healing power of artistic consumption and expression.

From the very first note of The Pretty Reckless’s fourth record it’s clear there’s an irrepressible necessity to these songs. Whether it’s the title track’s swinging-spitfire riff, which is both supremely rock and deliciously funky, Witches Burn’s misogynist-flaying smackdown or skyscraping confessional Standing At The Wall, every purposeful second makes you feel that these songs are important.

Momsen’s truly outstanding vocal performance is as fierce and raw as it is vulnerable and honest. Delivered with gravel-gargling grit one minute, icy gothic edge and tormented sadness the next, Got So High finds her offering a tender flight through Mazzy Star’s hallucinogenic universe, while the haunted and howling 25 (which could have been the best James Bond theme song in decades) typifies her varied range and visceral articulation.  

It would be unfair to label this a one woman show, though, as the rest of the band match her supreme showing thunderous blow for thunderous blow. The arrangements are confident, sometimes surprising, and full of fire on the Alice in Chains march-cum-charge of My Bones. And if that wasn’t toasty enough, some special guests arrive to turn proceedings into a full blown inferno.

And So It Went—which is such a strong tune that even the increasingly cliched trope of employing a kids’ choir offers a timely kick—is elevated by a typically convention-defying, space age solo from Tom Morello. The apocalyptic Soundgarden storm that’s conjured on Only Love Can Save Me Now allows both Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil to bring their A game, with the latter dispatching an almost alien lead burst that unfurls over an instinctively propulsive tempo change.  

The Pretty Reckless have always shown respect and appreciation for their influences, regularly tipping their hat without losing sight of the band’s own identity. Refusing to be handcuffed by either genre or structural conventions, the album may begin in an overdriven hole full of dark grunge angst, but a lighter tone, courtesy of some classic touchstones, slowly takes over as things progress. Gold, Rock and Roll Heaven and Harley Darling lovingly channel everyone from Thin Lizzy and Neil Young to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Beatles as Taylor moves towards a brighter future.

‘Death By Rock and Roll’ is as much a testament to the emotionally transcendent power of music as it is to Momsen’s credentials as a bona fide rock star. She may have initially attracted a lot of cynicism due to her ‘Gossip Girl star’ past, but it’s impossible to question her authenticity after this career-defining release.


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