Grunge Is In Safe Hands
Upon cracking open The Pretty Reckless’ new album like a ’90s kid with a box of prize-containing breakfast cereal, listeners will be struck by a pressing question: does Layne Staley have a sister? The vocal similarities between frontwoman Taylor Momsen and the deceased Alice in Chains crooner are startling: their default tenor has a slightly metallic quality, and they both switch between heartfelt and savage with the ease of pressing a button. Given the decrease in quality of Alice post-Layne, Momsen’s throwback is extremely satisfying.
Call it the calm before the storm or the glow after a good cry, but the emotion and instrumentation of Who You Selling For has a distinctive push-pull quality. Slow burners that draw the listener into a false sense of complacency exist so that the ravaging, 140 BPM+ tracks that inevitably both sting and entice all the more. The rhythm of the album as a whole is a heartbeat, or an iamb.
Opening song pair “The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman” and “Oh My God” demonstrate this duality perfectly. The haunting, oppressive affect of the former literally feels like the audio equivalent of the listener’s world being slowly shrunk, until nothing but Momsen’s voice exists. By the time the track comes to a close, the listener’s nerves are likely so shot that the blast beats that open “Oh My God” actually come as a relief. Thank god, one may think. At least now I can get out of my own head.
The lyrical themes are generally (and unsurprisingly) dark, falling into two overarching categories: death/demons/criminals and personal anxieties. Those of the first category are largely boilerplate. The vivid imagery of the reaper stalking a war zone in “Living the Storm” is a rare highlight. The Pretty Reckless enjoys more success in the second category, which is not surprising. A quick Google search reveals that Taylor Momsen is neither a criminal, a demon, nor Lord Death herself. Thus, singing about those matters is necessarily going to be a more intellectualized affair than reliving actual memories. Her lyrics in “Wild City” about a “motherless child” who feels she has to “weather those streets alone” is reminiscent of her own childhood, in which she was forced into acting at an early age, never asked about her desires, and having to survive on her own wit.
Although the genre of Who You Selling For is undoubtedly grunge, The Pretty Reckless actually displays more range than a band like Alice in Chains. Flirtations with metal (“Wild City,” “Living the Storm”), emo (“Who You Selling for,” “Bedroom Window”), and even southern rock (“Take Me Down,” “Back to the River”) populate a healthy twelve-song track listing that nonetheless flies through its 51 minutes of playtime.
Layne Staley would be 49 years old if he were still alive today. Ms. Momsen is only 23, meaning she has plenty of time as she sketches her own creative legacy. Grunge is in safe hands; more importantly, it is in hands that will spur its growth.