It’s quite impressive how unassumingly Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless have made their way to the upper echelon of the modern rock world. They’ve done it with steady consistency, growth and solid rock and roll songwriting. This reviewer had to double check his own notes to confirm that the band’s latest effort, Death By Rock and Roll, is their fourth album in over a decade together. Musically, the album is a return to form for the modern hard rock and classic grunge sounds of Going to Hell, while infusing the maturity and musical growth of the bluesy Who You Selling For.
Momsen’s growth as a bandleader has been impressive. The singer’s acting background seems like a footnote. She now lives and dies by The Pretty Reckless, something that has brought a seeming confidence. Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips have also developed into a tremendous writing tandem. Death By Rock and Roll certainly rocks, but even more effective are the dynamics and the dramatic rise and fall that make the album a more compelling listen. The opening title track sets an immediate tone. It’s a raucous, over-the-top romp that, well, rocks. “I wanna go with a shotgun blast/ I wanna go with a motorcycle crash/ Out on my own, I don’t need to be saved,” Momsen sings of her rock-induced demise.
The bluesy grunge riffs of “Only Love Can Save Me Now” harken back to the heyday of ’90s grunge acts like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. The infectious chorus and dramatically building melodies make it memorable even before Phillips turns in a blistering guitar solo. The grunge vibes continue with “And So It Went,” which brings in even more of a Soundgarden influence with a musical callback to the band’s own “Heaven Knows” in the gang outro. To put the cherry on top, the song includes a guitar solo from the instantly recognizable Tom Morello. It’s one of the album’s best moments.
The grunge influences are didn’t come by accident. Along with Morello, The Pretty Reckless worked with Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. That they lent a hand with the album’s creation cements Momsen and co.’s rise to the top. The dramatic power ballad “25” leans toward progressive rock, clocking in at nearly five and half minutes. From its quietest moments to the loudest, Tayler Momsen’s voice carries it from start to finish. The song occasionally gives a slight musical nod to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” in its raw bluesy shading.
The no-frills rock returns for “My Bones.” A militaristic building drumming pattern carries the first half of the track until it explodes into the chorus and finishes off with a double-time outro that recalls Thin Lizzy or KISS.
The first moment to catch your breath comes on the acoustic romp “Got So High,” which showcases both the musical and lyrical growth of the band. Momsen has added nuance to her vocal delivery in moving from note to note.
“Broomsticks” is a spooky interlude into the raw power of mid-tempo rocker “Witches Burn” that has Momsen belting, “For this I’ll burn/ On thing I’ve learned/ You’ll get your turn/ All witches burn.”
The introspective “Standing At The Wall” provides one of the album’s quietest moments, for a while. The acoustic cut eventually blossoms into a power ballad with backing strings and Momsen’s triumphant singing.
The more optimistic “Turning Gold,” infuses more of a bombastic ’80s rock feel with Momsen and Phillips carrying the vocal harmonies. “In the seventh hour/ Waiting in the cold/ I can feel the power/ I’m turning gold,” Momsen sings about making lemonade from lemons.
“Rock and Roll Heaven” continues the ode to that decade but adds some roots and Southern rock. The album closes out with an even rootsier ballad, “Harley Darling.” It’s a fitting final chapter to the album’s journey through decades of rock. Death By Rock and Roll thrives on its ability to surprise and delight while staying faithful to its core.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.