By Samuel Stevens
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Genre: Rock, Alternative Rock, Hard Rock
Label: Century Media Records / Fearless Records
The New York City-based rock outfit The Pretty Reckless -made up of vocalist Taylor Momsen, guitarist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon, and drummer Jamie Perkins- have returned with their fourth full-length album, Death By Rock And Roll, after a dark few years for the group. The band’s twelve-year journey has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs and they have used some of the recent downs to write their most ambitious, truthful, and emotional album to date. Death By Rock And Roll was recorded in a few different studios for well over a year and co-produced between Taylor, Ben, and their longtime friend Jonathan Wyman.
In late Spring 2017, The Pretty Reckless embarked on an esteemed opening slot on tour opening for Soundgarden across the United States. Until following a concert in Detroit, where Soundgarden’s vocalist Chris Cornell tragically took his own life. The events of that tragic night left the members of The Pretty Reckless shaken up and scarred. The band went on to cancel much of their planned tour during the remainder of 2017. Sequentially, the band retreated from the public eye. Some eleven months later, another tragedy struck the members of the band. Their longtime friend and frequent collaborator Kato Khandwala passed away in a motorcycle crash. Both of these tragedies ultimately became the subject of their new album.
“There was no way to hide from this,” says Taylor. “There was no running from what happened. I didn’t have to write it; it was just infused into what we’re doing.”
“It sent us into a downward spiral,” Ben recollects. “We fell apart. It turned into a world of depression and substance abuse. At that point, we had to try and figure out how to continue making music. It was either death or go forward.”
The album opens with the title track, “Death By Rock and Roll.” It begins with the eerie, haunting sound of footsteps -an actual recording of Kato’s footsteps- before Ben’s guitar riffs begin to ring through. It’s a raucous track all around that features heavily distorted guitar riffs, powerful belted vocals from Taylor, ground shaking bass from Mark, and explosive drum fills from Jamie. On the lyrical side, Taylor wrote the track about living your life your way with the juxtaposition of going out your own way. “Only Love Can Save Me Now” follows the tune with its five-minutes of its grunge influenced sound. In an ode to the late Chris Cornell, the song features Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and drummer Matt Cameron -who have become good friends with The Pretty Reckless’ members. Even tracked at London Bridge Studio in Seattle. Where Soundgarden recorded their second album, Louder Than Love. Lyrically, it’s referencing what everyone is going through in the world right now.
Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, is featured on the next track, “And So It Went.” Taylor wrote the lyrics of the song about the craziness of the civil unrest around the globe, which has only got worse over the last few years. Musically, the track starts with a sense of uneasiness with a mix of sounds as if something awful is about to happen before this massive sounding guitar riff from Ben rolls out and takes the song on a course of different fiery emotions. However, the guitar solo laid down by Tom Morello ties the whole track together sonically. The album takes a slight tone down with the reflective tune, “25.” Taylor sings from a very emotional place on this track. Its powerful lyrics resonate with her feelings of becoming frustrated in losing hope over her lifetime in a world where death is so prevalent.
“Get So High” is an acoustic ballad that outputs a heavenly, mesmerizing sound as the acoustic guitars ring out, and Taylor’s emotive, powerful voice is on display. The track tackles a powerful subject of substance abuse as a handle to cope with the deaths of Cornell and Khandwala. “Witches Burn,” accompanied by its intro-like interlude track, “Broomsticks,” are in the same vein as the album’s title track and displays Taylor’s powerful voice again that additionally includes a profound, bluesy guitar solo delivered from Ben. “Standing At The Wall” returns to the soft, heartfelt side of The Pretty Reckless that shines bright on Death By Rock And Roll. The track begins with just an acoustic guitar before simple percussion soon draws in. Approximately at the halfway mark, the song explodes into something entirely different than its first half. Furthermore, “Standing At The Wall” features one of the best vocal performances from Taylor on the album.
Some of the album’s best writing is displayed on the final two tracks as they bring Death By Rock And Roll full circle. “Rock And Roll Heaven” intelligently writes itself as an ode to the Righteous Brothers’ 1974 song of the same name and is essentially the sequel track to “Death By Rock And Roll.” Right down to the core, the tune is an acoustic-infused rock ballad, but lyrically the song speaks on “the great gig in the sky” that is full of what we now declare rock legends that got their tickets to the gates after passing this plane at the age of 27. Like musical artists Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. The final track, “Harley Darling,” is the most emotional number on the twelve track album. This country-rock tune is true to the band’s heart and lyrically, it wrenches at the heartstrings more than any other. Taylor emotionally sings about Kato’s death, directly to the motorcycle he was riding at the time of his death while dancing around bluesy guitar solos and the sound of a motorcycle revving its engine before riding away as Taylor sings the words, “…Ride away on your Harley darlin’, you took my love, you took him down the lonely road to the stars above.”
“We lived this,” Ben leaves off. “Rock and roll means everything to us. Taylor sacrificed everything for this record. I think it shows.”
“We stuck to our ethics. We built this up over time. Either you throw it all away or go for it. It’s cliché, but rock and roll saved our lives,” concludes Taylor.
Out of an ominous year in 2017, the members of The Pretty Reckless seen some dark days. Nevertheless, out of the darkness came writing an album to achieve some catharsis and write songs from the heart -as they usually would. Again, Death By Rock And Roll is their most ambitious, honest, and wholehearted album to date. It’s captured gallantly in the music and felt with pure emotion from the genuine lyrics you hear on the album. Please stay in touch with The Pretty Reckless by visiting their social media in the links provided below. Come February 12th, make sure to stream and/or purchase Death By Rock And Roll.