Find out our thoughts on the latest release from The Pretty Reckless…
2021 sees The Pretty Reckless return with their fourth studio album, Death by Rock and Roll; a title that could be viewed as quite ‘old-skool’ in the vein of a band like AC/DC. But is this an album that harkens back to a classic rock sound or finds itself steeped in the past as the title might suggest? Nah. In fact, it feels far more like a band taking a very confident stride into the sound that will define them for the rest of their career.
If you’re already a fan of The Pretty Reckless, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Stylistically, this leans very closely to the band’s 2014 sophomore effort, Going to Hell, no doubt the band’s best album to date, but there’s a clear maturity and willingness to expand roots which has clearly been picked up since 2016’s Who You Selling For. In fact, Death by Rock and Roll is probably best described as a fusion of the band’s two previous albums into one all encompassing sound that this reviewer thinks is a true representation of who The Pretty Reckless are in 2021, and probably who they should continue to be going forward.
As could be assumed by the title, the pervading theme across DbRaR is that of death, in particular the deaths of Rock legend Chris Cornell and previous TPR producer Kato Khandwala. These unfortunate endings have clearly been weighing upon vocalist Taylor Momsen’s mind over the last few years and permeate throughout her lyrics. Through the lens of death, additional themes of mortality, remembrance and the afterlife all shine through and help to dissect the thoughts and feelings that Momsen has laid bare across these 12 tracks. There are times when the lyrics can arguably become a bit predictable, but never to the detriment of the song or what’s being conveyed (in fact on one song, it even adds to the charm!).
Genre-wise, this is probably what you would expect, it’s Hard Rock with an emphasis on the ‘hard’ this time around; when these songs dial up the guitars, they go unashamedly all the way up to 11. Equally, when the album wants to slow down or find a moment for quiet introspection, it for the most part manages it comfortably, with the final 2 tracks of the album especially ending the album on a surprisingly upbeat note considering their lyrics. It could be argued that there’s not an awful lot on this album you may not have heard done somewhere else before, but these songs are written and performed to such an excellent degree that for the most part you shouldn’t notice. The riffs, courtesy of Ben Phillips, are sensational. You can feel Jamie Perkins’ drums pounding in your chest, and Momsen’s vocals are on fine form with her characteristic rasp firing on all cylinders across the board.
It’d be remiss not to mention the massive guest stars who appear on tracks 2 and 3 of this album, Only Love Can Save Me Now and And So It Went, all former bandmates of Chris Cornell. On the former, Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden lend their chops to create a very Grunge-ready, sludgy number which is a true highlight in The Pretty Reckless’ catalogue. On the latter, Tom Morello of Audioslave shows up for a typically bonkers guitar solo which really elevates an already monumental track to a level that many may have doubted TPR would ever be capable of. If we’re picking favourite tracks though, for this reviewer at least it’s track 10, Turning Gold, in which the band soars to heights that you would usually only expect from stadium-level bands – and no, that’s not just hyperbole! I could imagine Chris Cornell’s voice wailing proudly on this track, and I daresay I could pay no higher compliment to Momsen and co.
It’s not a record without flaws, mind you. Not least of which is its runtime – 51 minutes isn’t a long time, but there are a few tracks that start to outstay their welcome in such a way that it can be detrimental to the listener’s attention span. The most egregious culprit for this is the fourth track, 25, which almost sounds like the band’s attempt at a Bond theme and is the longest track on the album. Now, there will be people for whom this is their favourite track on the album. I’m not one of those people, I think it has some interesting moments and a fun lyrical pattern, but it really falls flat for me unfortunately – a shame considering the bombast with which it exists. Coming as early as it does in the tracklist too, it served to stall the enjoyment for me rather than come across as the triumph it perhaps hoped to be.
That said though, there’s no doubt in my mind that every member of The Pretty Reckless should be extremely proud of the album they’ve crafted here. In time and with the right amount of embracement, this could very well go down as the band’s crowning moment. Just as exciting is the thought that when live shows finally return, The Pretty Reckless will now have a set of hits to make a festival crowd completely lose their minds, and I can’t wait to see it.