Fueled by heartache
New York band The Pretty Reckless experienced two tragedies while on tour with Soundgarden in 2017. The latter band’s frontman, Chris Cornell, heartrendingly took his life after their show in Detroit. 11 months afterward, The Pretty Reckless’ longtime producer Kato Khandwala dies in a motorcycle crash. The band’s retreat was meant to explore the grief and heartbreak which they recorded in their new album, Death by Rock and Roll.
The result isn’t subtle, as it is a theatrical hard rock manifestation dealing with difficult moments and little introspection. The title track “Death by Rock and Roll” is fast and clings to the reverb, fading in and out of intense guitar riffs. Singer Taylor Momsen adds the strain to reach people’s moody musical taste. Death is never far away in this album, as it motivates Momsen to effortlessly deliver prominent music in a straightforward fashion. This song, along with “Only Love Can Save Me Now,” vibrates and dances to the sound of darkness.
Death’s powerful force is centered in as a role in “Rock and Roll Heaven.” As one of the lighter tracks on this album, it seems fluff. The staged and manufactured themes present seem to be highlighted by relative oohs and aahs, making this song seem bigger than it is. “Turning Gold” slows down even further, though it seems to have a cathartic effect on the listener. “Got So High” follows the leader in this one with a bit of flightiness, seeming arid and lacking substance to make this a hit. Furthering the grim reaper’s reach is “My Bones,” an aggressive and strained track with little originality. The drumbeat is sickening, getting fused with the miscellaneous guitar riffs that seem to appear out of thin air.
Sadness and despair weave into this album effortlessly. “Standing at the Wall” provides a striking contrast when juxtaposed with the rest of the hard rock collection but offers a sense of compassion not present in other tracks. This track provided emotion successfully compared to other wannabe sad songs. The album’s closer “Harley Darling” is perhaps a runner-up, offering the acoustic ambiance to highlight Momsen’s distress in her vocals.
“25” is more or less autobiographical, a ballad that explores Momsen’s life-long idolization of her troubled rock and roll heroes. The tension in this song is stimulating but flashy, seeming a bit childish. In another child-like manner, “Broomsticks” is almost a dark children’s song, one sung by possessed schoolchildren in horror movies. Though, this tie to youth seems to add power to music in the past, like the children’s chorus in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).” The Pretty Reckless’ “And So It Went” siphons off a bit of this power and children’s chorus before it facades into something that it is not.
Guitarist Ben Phillips has countless riffs which explore the band’s grief naturally. Some are forced, but others deserve a better stage or track along with them. “Witches Burn” introduces a spider-like guitar riff of intrigue and despair, coiling the reverb until it punches into the chorus. His timing is impeccable, fading in and out perfectly with Momsen’s powerful vocals.
Momsen and her bandmates ensure this album is their most confident collection yet. The songs are persuasive but shattered by Momsen’s vocals and balanced by the instruments themselves. She tackles issues head-on, which is heard in their music, but she also proves that music has the ability to soundtrack events in our lives. It can add a commentary and perspective unforeseen by the crap in everyday life, and Momsen is the narrator in Death by Rock and Roll. It’s now a matter of if you want to listen.