Rock & roll isn’t dead people.
Two years after they captivated the world of modern rock with their album Going to Hell, The Pretty Reckless are back again with even more aptitude and passion than ever before. 2016’s Who You Selling For marks the band’s third studio record, and it’s bringing a whole lot to the table for their fans.
Front woman Taylor Momsen is nothing short of your average rock star, but is also so much more. Doing Q&A’s with her fans on twitter, she loved to watch as people tried to demystify this enigmatic new album and all of the underlying themes behind it. She never gives too much information because she wants listeners to delve into her songs with an open, unbiased mind so that they can uncover their own meanings behind her messages. Instead of being able to pinpoint a specific feeling or event, fans are left to utilize the artistic portions of their own minds – and that is what makes The Pretty Reckless so damn good.
Before I review the new album, I do want to flashback and compare the first two. The jump from 2010’s Light Me Up to 2014’s Going to Hell was one from amateur to professional, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong – Light Me Up has some really fun and awesome tunes on it. The tracks are more studio-produced and pop-oriented, and they’re fun as hell to sing along to. It is more aimed at a specific audience, however, which would consist of young girls. But let’s not forget that that is what Momsen was at the time – a 15 year old girl. How much has someone gone through in their life at that point to be able to write advanced songs? Not much, but she still did a pretty good job at it.
Now, Going to Hell. This album was much more relatable for me and for all rock fans alike. Momsen stated that they chose to keep production simple and raw so that the songs would sound more natural when they performed them live, and you can hear a drastic difference in the music this time around. The guitars are heavier, the bass is thumping and the drumming is impeccable. Going to Hell definitely earned the band a larger, broader fan base as they headlined festivals with bands like Slayer, Halestorm, Korn, and Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. This was the album that truly got them on the map, and this was the album that showed the world that they were dead serious about their rock and roll.
And now it’s time to get into Who You Selling For. In mid-July, Momsen posted the artwork for the first single that was to be released. With the band’s classic logo and a woman’s and what appeared to be the devil’s hands shaking, fans were left wondering whether or not they were going to be handed another collection of songs about the devil and belonging “way down below.”
Well, Pretty Reckless fans, you are in for a surprise.
Of the three records, Who You Selling For is by far the most experimental. Whereas the first two albums tended to stay loyal to one grounded sound, this time around the band’s diverse resume of influences is heard as they expand their horizons and explore other sub-genres of rock, such as southern, blues, and funk. This versatility shows the extent of the band’s aptitude as it is not easy to enter so many territories on one record and actually sound good.
Momsen delivers several different styles of singing, meanwhile more attention is placed on guitarist Ben Phillips than previously as many of the songs feature longer guitar solos. The recurring theme throughout this work is living with both the benefits and the burdens of fame. Let’s break down the tracks one by one.
I don’t think the band could’ve chosen a better opener for the record than “The Walls are Closing In (Hangman).” As my personal favorite, I am truly hoping they choose to open their shows with it as well. The tune starts off with a piano interlude and features Momsen’s deep, raspy voice. With a crisp guitar sound and the overdubbing of the vocals, this track sounds to have been influenced heavily by Alice in Chains. The rhythm is cool and the tone is eerie as Momsen growls about having to live up to the high standards of critics in the music industry.
“Oh My God” was the second single released off the album in early September. Energetic, angry, and raw – Momsen screams about the burdens of fame and wishes she could go back to an earlier point in her life when she was “so dumb and so innocent.” The next track and first single, “Take Me Down,” was released on July 14th. With a much calmer beat than the single’s artwork hinted at, it grew quickly on listeners as it rose to number one on the rock charts within weeks. With a catchy groove, this narrative-style song opens up about the reality of the music business and signing “with the devil.”
“Prisoner” is the first track on the record that really delves into new territory, musically. It is very profoundly blues-based, following the traditional 12-bar blues song format. “Wild City,” written about New York City where the band formed, is very eccentric as well. It has a dominating funk undertone, featuring a chorus in the background to complement Momsen’s lead vocals.
Next is a reminiscent song with an innocent nature about missing home and wanting to escape the limelight and the pressures that come with it. “Back to the River” is a southern-rock track that has banjo-mimicking guitar melodies and soft vocals. It definitely has the kind of beat that makes you want to crack open a beer in the countryside.
The album-titled track is tranquil and quiet, with a slight buildup toward the end. The verses feature a soft tapping behind Momsen’s airy, relaxed vocals. “Bedroom Window” is another slow, acoustic track. It has similar traces to “Norwegian Wood,” comprehensibly as Momsen has a very large admiration for John Lennon. Who doesn’t?
“Living in the Storm” has an alternative edge to it accompanied by screechy vocals. “Already Dead” is a dense tune with Chicago-blues remnants. The longest track on the record, “The Devil’s back” is gentle but chilling. The last four minutes of this song hand the spotlight over to Ben Phillips where he plays a rich, echoing solo. None of their songs in the past gave such a dedicated time slot exclusively to instrumental, so this was a first for the band.
The final song is “Mad Love.” This is probably the most unexpected-sounding track on the record. It opens with a “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” inspired guitar refrain and then switches over to a very produced, funk-hip hop groove. While it is definitely an appealing piece, it may take some getting used to for those bound solely to rock.
Who You Selling For is set for release on October 21st. Overall, the album represented a new journey that the band decided to embark on together, and it has paid off. This is The Pretty Reckless’s most daring, progressive album yet. And you’re gonna love it.
Don’t forget to get tickets to see them perform, too. These songs are gonna be sick live.