One of rock music’s biggest success stories of the decade, grungy rock n’ rollers The Pretty Reckless, are currently in the fortunate position of going from strength to strength, with current release Death by Rock and Roll being the highest selling album in the band’s native US on its first week, becoming their first number one and third top ten.
Formed in New York City in 2009, The Pretty Reckless consists of Taylor Momsen on lead vocals/guitar, Ben Phillips on lead guitar/backing vocals, Mark Damon on bass, and Jamie Perkins on drums. Despite a few line up changes early on, they’ve had this line up since 2010 and this has proven invaluable as the band’s songwriting and general musicianship appears to have improved with each subsequent release.
Led by a model and former actress, there were the usual doubts and premature judgments, probably before some people had even heard a note of the music, but Momsen has proved herself a talented singer, songwriter and frontwoman, more than worthy of her and the band’s current status, whilst the band themselves are clearly more than just back up singers for a vocalist who just happens to be a beautiful woman.
The Pretty Reckless have dabbled in many influences in their career so far but are definitely a bunch of old school rockers at heart. Here, we look at the band’s albums and attempt to work out what the best ones are, which to buy first, and the ones that may require a little more patience to appreciate…
Going to Hell
Released in March, 2014, The Pretty Reckless’ second album builds on the potential of their debut to deliver something slightly heavier, darker, more memorable and overall more enjoyable. Starting with what sounds like a woman having sex in the woods before bursting into life with a big, greasy riff followed by Taylor Momsen’s vicious delivery, ‘Follow Me Down’ is the perfect opener for Going to Hell and shows that Pretty Reckless are taking no prisoners on this album.
The momentum continues with ‘Going To Hell,’ opening with another big, catchy riff and fast-paced vocal delivery from Momsen. By the time third track and lead single ‘Heaven Knows,’ with it’s bluesy/gospel-style opening and goose-bump-inducing chorus courtesy of The Bronxville High School Chorus, finishes, you’re convinced that you are listening to a potential modern hard rock classic.
Fortunately, the quality continues throughout the album with the big riffs on ‘Sweet Things’ and ‘Why’d You Bring A Shotgun To The Party,’ sing-along choruses on ‘Absolution’ and ‘Fucked Up World,’ and Bob Dylan-esque balladry on album closer ‘Waiting For A Friend’ proving that The Pretty Reckless are in this for the long haul. Going to Hell debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 chart, also boasting three number one singles on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, which showed that the US, and soon the world, were taking notice of Pretty Reckless’ brand of rock.
Death by Rock and Roll
It is perhaps a surprise in some respects that Death by Rock and Roll came out as well as it did, seeing as it’s the band’s first album since the death of their long-time producer and close friend of Momsen, Kato Khandwala. In addition, on May 18th 2017, while touring with the grunge gods, singer Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was judged to have taken his own life after a show. Not only were the Seattle band a big influence on The Pretty Reckless, Momsen had become good friends with the legendary vocalist, his death hitting her hard and later admitting that she suffered from depression and substance abuse after Cornell’s tragic death.
But, eventually, Taylor and the rest of the band did the best thing that they could possibly do for themselves: write songs. Released in February 2021 on their new label Fearless Records, Death by Rock and Roll combines what had gone before and what was already great about the band, and adds a new level of maturity in both songwriting and production to produce some genuinely great songs that should hopefully ensure the band’s popularity and longevity.
From opening title track ‘Death By Rock and Roll,’ with its big riff and powerful vocal performance from Momsen, to the country-tinged ‘Harley Darling,’ the album is full of memorable songs and moments. One of the most important of those being latest single ‘Only Love Can Save Me Now’ as it features former Soundgarden members Matt Cameron on drums and guitarist Kym Thayil; Pretty Reckless staying in touch with the other members of Soundgarden after Chris Cornell’s untimely and heartbreaking death. The riff and song itself are reminiscent of Soundgarden but with Taylor Momsen’s vocals which must have been a dream come true for the singer as she has often stated that Soundgarden, along with The Beatles, are her favourite band of all time.
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Other highlights include ‘And So It Went’ featuring Rage Against the Machine guitarist and all round guitar wizard Tom Morello, the Bond theme-ish epic ’25’, the grungy ‘Witches Burn’ and the anthemic ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’. If there are any real negatives to Death by Rock and Roll it would be that the slower, acoustic-type songs are all wedged in at the end instead of spread evenly throughout the album. But when the songs are this good, that is only a minor grumble and, with their fourth album, The Pretty Reckless have released their most consistent set of songs so far.
Light Me Up
Released in August 2010 to generally positive reviews, The Pretty Reckless’ first album definitely made a nice first impression with opening song ‘My Medicine’ featuring the sound of the lighting of a cigarette (heh) and a slow, building riff followed by Taylor’s sexy vocals before said riff becomes bigger and the band kick in. Second track, the bass-heavy ‘Since You’re Gone,’ is a quick and effective kick in the crotch. Following those with lead single ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ makes for a strong statement as opening songs go and a solid introduction to these ballsy newcomers.
Such a mixture of big rockers, mid-paced sludgers, and a couple of slower ballad-style tracks have become standard fare for Pretty Reckless. Although not every song is quite as good or as memorable as what would follow on later albums, Light Me Up is still a decent and promising debut and it’s clear by the conclusion it’s that Taylor Momsen is a real star to watch with a talented band backing her up.
Approach with Caution
Who You Selling For
Now, “approach with caution” doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and in this case it is definitely not. But with their third album, The Pretty Reckless seemed to take a more experimental route and use different influences than those we had previously heard from them. Sure, the band’s rock n’ roll roots were still present and correct along with nods to their grunge influences, but there was a more stripped-down, even laidback approach to Who You Selling For taking in some funk, Motown and 70’s rock influences this time.
That might sound strange compared to the full-on hard rock approach their previous album Going To Hell had but here it mostly works, with first single ‘Take Me Down’ bringing to mind the Rolling Stones classic ‘Sympathy with the Devil,’ which is no bad thing. The gospel-tinged ‘Prisoner,’ the funky ‘Mad Love,’ the Nirvana-esque ‘Oh My God,’ and ‘Back to the River’ featuring Allman Brothers & Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes all showcase a band that have grown and worked hard together to produce something different while not straying too far from the Pretty Reckless’ original blueprint, and that is definitely an achievement to be celebrated.
Released in October 2016, the album reached number 13 on the US rock chart and 23 in the UK, with lead single ‘Take Me Down’ topping the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. So, not exactly a difficult third album but a different and definitely decent one.
Those four albums make up the bulk of official releases from The Pretty Reckless so far. Their first self-titled four-track EP was released in June 2010 and three of its four songs would later end up on debut album Light Me Up; ‘Make Me Wanna Die,’ ‘My Medicine,’ and ‘Goin’ Down.’ They also released the Hit Me Like a Man EP in March 2012, featuring three new songs and two live versions of the previously released songs ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ and ‘Since You’re Gone’ which were recorded at shows in London during November 2011.
So there we have it, The Pretty Reckless story so far. They have been through some ups and downs throughout their career, but musically it’s mostly been positive and their brand of rock n’ roll can only get bigger and better from here.
The Pretty Reckless’ latest album, Death by Rock and Roll, is out now.