The Pretty Reckless: Album Review

Album – Death By Rock And Roll

The Pretty Reckless are a New York City modern rock band formed in 2009. Fronted by famous actress Taylor Momsen (The Grinch, Gossip Girl) the band had released three studio albums as of 2020, spawning four US #1 rock chart singles in the process, including most notably their 2010 hit Make Me Wanna Die. Rocking up well over 100M streams on Spotify alone, they are one of the biggest modern rock bands in the world. Their new album, Death by Rock and Roll, was released this month and looks to continue the trend upwards for the band. I have to admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of the band. I like them, don’t get me wrong, and I like a lot of the singles they put out, but they haven’t ever made me want to listen to a full album by them. That obviously changes today, and let’s see if they change my mind, shall we?

May be a black-and-white image of 3 people, people standing and indoor
The Pretty Reckless’ Official Facebook

The first of the four singles released prior to the album and the title track itself, Death by Rock and Roll, starts us off. It opens on a HUGE, awesome guitar riff, big, fast and heavy. It’s a great way to start the album and straight away I have to point out the insanely good production value, everything can be heard clearly and crisply in the mix. The instrumentation drops out each time Taylor’s powerful low vocals come in throughout the verse, a nice touch and adds some great dynamics. It was, however, almost the exact same melody and feel as one of their old singles, Heaven Knows, which felt a little cheap. After a couple of times the chorus kicks in, the guitars sticking mainly to power chords now but a subtle melodic lead part can be heard low in the mix behind it, getting louder towards the end of it. My only issue with it, though, and with the song as a whole actually, is that it just isn’t catchy. Like don’t get me wrong, the riff is catchy, as is the verse, but the chorus feels a little bit of a cop-out in comparison, something they put in just because they felt the song needed a vocal chorus. The title of the song is repeated in the verse, for crying out loud, it would have been fine to just go old-school like Sabbath and just have a guitar riff be a chorus. After the second chorus we get an awesome little part where the riff keeps dropping out leaving room for a few quick drum fills/solos. The guitar solo afterwards was okay too, pretty basic but it fit the song well. We get a final chorus before the song ends. A pretty good start but that chorus left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Next up is Only Love can Save me Now (so many long song titles), this one featuring guest appearances from Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. Straight away Kim leaves his mark, the riff sounding very grungy and Soundgarden-esque; I love it! There is this weird, horribly high-pitched ringing in the background that they put in there for some reason (I paused the track and it stopped so I knew it wasn’t me!). Once I heard it, it was all I could hear, and it was starting to hurt by the time they finally get rid of it in the verse. The grungy feel continues throughout the verse, a simple guitar riff and drumbeat staying behind Taylor’s again low vocals. The tempo stays slow for the chorus but it’s 10x catchier and better than the previous song’s, being pretty easy to sing along to, usually a good indicator that it’ll go down well live. We get another guitar solo, this one again better than the previous one, it being longer and more technical at parts, although it maybe overdoes it with the wah and distortion just a little. A short bridge builds well into the final chorus before the song fades out with some feedback. I enjoyed this a lot more than the previous one and feel like it would have maybe made for a better lead single. Playlisted.

The next song, And So It Went, features another guest artist, this time one of the best and most interesting guitarists ever, Tom Morello. Opening on a solo, awesome guitar riff before it explodes into its heavy, distorted evolution sounds awesome and so far, the band are three for three with damn good riffs. The stripped back opening riff continues through the first half of the verse alongside some quick symbols, and for a few seconds I love this. The key change for the second half wasn’t for me, however. I’m usually a big fan of them if they are done right, but this felt awkward and out of place, especially when they drop it back down again immediately afterwards. The dropped down, stripped back choruses were an interesting touch that I’m still trying to wrap my head around, to little avail. They sound good on their own, but are a very strange choice for a chorus and make the song sound even messier than it already was. The second chorus builds up to an even further stripped back part too, another odd choice to goad the listener into thinking there’ll be a great riff or drop before changing to just some Aqualung style vocals and clean guitar. At least after that we finally get a crazy guitar solo from Morello, just as odd and technically incredible as some of his best. Then, we get to maybe my most hated part of the song for me. Why does any band ever have the thought that kids chanting sounds good on a rock song? Manson barely pulled it off. Faith No More did it as an ironic joke. That’s it. All others, be it Pink Floyd, Bring Me The Horizon or now Pretty Reckless TWICE. Stop it guys, please. I can’t even keep talking about this song any more. Outside of the solo and at a push the riff it is not good. Another terrible choice for a single.

Time for another of the singles, 25. It starts slow and quiet, a nice clean guitar riff and simple drumbeat behind Taylor’s higher vocals. The chorus drops into a pretty heavy riff as the vocals ramp up, being catchy and soring and easily the best chorus so far. It’s short and sweet, soon dropping back down into the lower verse, this time with some added beautiful strings in the back. I love the slow, brooding, moody feel to this, it honestly being shocking that the same band can write a song of this quality AND the last one. It goes into a slightly out of place 21 Pilots’ Ode to Sleep style part, all happy and bouncy and piano-y part for a little bit after the second chorus, pulling out of the mood a little bit. It soon gets back to the slower, moodier stuff that this song does so well, the final chorus leading to a long, great outro where each part slowly drops out one by one. This is my favourite song on the album by quite a margin so far, despite the questionable quality of the lyrics. Playlisted.

Both My Bones and Got So High are more typical TPR songs. My Bones is heavy and brooding in the best possible ways, opening on a palm-muted, building verse before exploding into a massive, catchy chorus, the vocals soring beautifully and higher than ever. It drops down again for the verse but it fits so well. The first half of the song all feels like it’s all building up to the big, almost thrashy guitar riff that carries the song through its second half, sounding awesome with the multi-tracked, harmonised backing vocals behind Taylor’s already great leads. It then somehow ends up in yet another, even heavier riff as an outro, it having a massively epic feel to it and is one I desperately want to see live. Got So High is the complete opposite, being a slow, acoustic song that is very centered around Taylor. It reminds me of another of their songs and one of my favourites from them, You. The vocals are softer here and beautiful, especially when they sore higher; some of them actually reminding me a little of the style that Layne Staley used to go for during the choruses. It also gives off a lot of American Indie vibes, especially during the choruses. I feared a little in the middle that it was building up to something different but thankfully they keep it as the stripped back ballad. Both of these songs immediately made the playlist and are easily two of the best songs on the album by a large margin.

After a short interlude track (that somehow ended up as a single) in Broomsticks, we get to Witches Burn. It opens on an awesome classic rock inspired guitar riff, like a moody Boston or AC/DC. It keeps up the old-school feel through the verse with a similar guitar riff and basic drumbeat backing some more… interesting… lyrics from Taylor. The chorus is again good and catchy, keeping the simple feel to it like the rest of the song has, not overdoing it with another big chorus. The solo is maybe the most enjoyable on the album, simple but full of emotion and fits the tone and style of the song perfectly. It heads out of that into a final extended chorus to close things out, with some very odd, very quiet soloing if you strain your ears hard to hear it (why was it so quite?) before the song does the cardinal sin of fading out. Another good song on an album which so far has only had bad singles.

Standing at the Wall is another slow acoustic ballad. It is a good, beautiful song, but is pretty similar to Got so High and is ever so slightly worse, in my opinion. I loved her vocal melody following the guitar one during the verses, though, and the tone and mood are both fantastic for it, fitting perfectly to the lyrics. The second half when the drums and strings come in too only make it feel even more epic, a really great rock ballad.

Turning Gold is okay but at this point it is nothing new on the album. Some good hooks and it has a good chorus, but nothing on it really stands out, especially after how good the last song was. The same can be said for the final two songs, Rock and Roll Heaven and Harley Darling. Outside of the slight country twang to them, they’re just two more slow, ballady rock songs. Both are still good song, don’t get me wrong, but on an album with a couple of very, very good slow songs, they both kind of gets lost in the shuffle a little bit. It also feels so weird to end a hard rock album with FOUR slow songs. It very quickly turned into a soft rock song after Witches Burn, something like Bryan Adams or Ted Nugent. It’s not bad at all, but when the first few songs on the album have such incredible, heavy riffs in them and then there isn’t a single one to be found during the last two thirds of the album as it is all much slower and calmer, it feels just a little badly arranged. Even though the softer stuff is far better, in my opinion, it would have been nicer to spread it all out a little more!

Overall: I enjoyed this album more than I thought I would. There were definitely some issues, see So It Went and Death by Rock and Roll, but there was also a lot of really great stuff too, especially the slower songs. For the first album by them I have listened to from front to back in one sitting, I maybe could have picked a better one, and I do believe their last album, Who You Selling For, was more consistent in its quality. However, it was still a good rock album that had more than a couple of songs that I will find myself listening to over and over. Good stuff!

Overall: 7/10

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The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths

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