Pretty Reckless Album Review – Who You Selling For
Taylor Momsen has the blues – and I don’t mean she’s sad, or melancholy, either, I mean she’s got rhythm, she’s got soul, hell she even has a little funk; but above all Taylor Momsen has the blues. This hard rock heroine and her band, The Pretty Reckless, have just released an album, Who You Selling For, that is the embodiment of all of those conditions she has.
If you listen to rock radio, there is a good chance you heard a track from this recording already that was released back in July, “Take Me Down”, which is currently listed #1 on Billboard charts, beating out bands like Green Day, Disturbed, and Metallica. Not only is this song number one, but their last three releases have all been chart toppers, something a female-fronted band hasn’t been able to do since the 1980’s.
I couldn’t wait to review this album because I thought the rest of the album would sound like “Take Me Down”, but was pleasantly surprised to find out it did not. Each song has its own direction, its own feel – which, if heard on their own, would give the listener a different idea of the direction the complete body of work was going in. Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips composed the tracks, pouring a little bit of their soul into each, before adding various influences until they were all seasoned to sonic perfection.
The first cut, “The Walls Are Closing In/ Hangman” begins simply: “Get your sh*t together”, she whispers into the microphone. This is followed by a soft piano intro accompanying Taylor’s voice smooth and velvety. As the piano goes silent, it is replaced by a heavy guitar sound that raises up from the unexpected hush to become a crescendo of hard rock that one has come to expect from The Pretty Reckless. Momsen urges the listener to stand strong when they come to hang you, as the band behind hits their licks hard.
“Oh My God” is grunge made all over again. I can easily picture Nirvana or Soundgarden belting this out in the early 90’s. One thing to note: lyrics include “wish I was black/wish I had soul/ and my music attacked”- Ms. Momsen, all those things are ever-present throughout this album. This is hard-hitting song, angry and full of angst, and I love it for that. I grew up during the grunge era and this was what the music was all about.
Grunge was an exploration of the dirty underbelly of rock music, returning to simple, easily understood lyrics that were set against a punk rock riff, in stark opposition to the studio-produced hair metal bands that had arisen to dominate the popular music scene back then. Momsen gets downright muddy revisiting this style, rollicking in the filth, with the joy of a little kid making mud pies.
Next is the number one that drew me to this record in the first place: “Take Me Down”, in which they pay homage to when blues legend Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads in the 1930’s to sell his eternal soul to the devil for musical talent and fame. The Pretty Reckless is the latest in a long line of artists stretching back to that era to do so, ranging from Eric Clapton, to Led Zeppelin, and many more.
Taylor tells her own tale of visiting the legendary site, to an up-tempo beat that is reminiscent of the clickety-clack of a freight train on the move. All of this imagery is further enhanced with Momsen and Phillips adding some Southern rock guitar to the mix. In the end it is a believable tale, and judging by the success the band has enjoyed in such a short time; something that could never be attributed to their hard work and massive amounts of talent. It is clear she signed with the devil. Obviously.
“Prisoner” keeps us in the Mississippi delta, the song conjuring up visions of a chain gang breaking boulders in the scorching southern sun. It is performed in the style of field hollering, in which slaves, and later sharecroppers, would sing hymns to keep up morale while performing exhausting work done in plantation fields, and was later picked up by both prisoners working on chain gangs and bluesmen alike. Taylor eloquently reminds us of truth about the horrors of such conditions, all set to a steady hand-clap beat: “You can take my body/ but you can’t have me”, she says. Preach, sister!
Starting of like the theme song to a 1970’s Blaxploitation film, such as Shaft, “Wild City” tells the sad story of a young girl trying to make her way in the big city. Funk infused hard rock provides the backdrop to this woeful tale. As I mentioned earlier, Taylor Momsen does indeed have soul, and she proves it on this track, her voice powerful and strong. I find it hard to believe that a skinny white girl like her could have a voice comparable to sisters like Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight, but somehow she pulls it off. More clear evidence she has indeed sold her soul for musical prowess.
“Back To the River” could easily break into the Country Top 40, as The Pretty Reckless explore a down home style of music. Momsen’s vocal style reminds me of Sheryl Crow in this song, and the slide guitar dueling with the piano perfectly suits the sound they were looking for. Any band that can rock as hard as The Pretty Reckless does, and still have room to fit in a tune like this just shows the depth and breadth of their musical influences.
Following this is the title track “Who You Selling For” which is a slow song that could easily be featured on the soundtrack of most any movie. It would fit perfectly in the cathartic belly-of-the-beast stage in most stories. Momsen conjures up images of a girl awakened from a dream who has many questions to be answered. Among them the album title: “Who you selling for tonight?”
The music is slow and hazy sounding, almost as though the listener has themselves been awoken from an odd dream. Taylor also pays homage to many of her musical heroes on this track, mentioning by name John and Paul, with Beatles song references, and Roger showing her she was building a wall, along with others.
“Bedroom Window” is another slow song in which she seems to be reflecting on how crazy her life has become, and what is dream, and what is real. The song is very short and seems more like an intro than a full song, but it must have some deep, personal meaning to have been included on the record.
Following these three slow songs, like a ship crossing the doldrums, the wind at last picks up and brings us “Living In the Storm”. This is the hard rock we have come to know and love from The Pretty Reckless. I would be very surprised if this is not the next single cut from the album for release onto radio stations everywhere.
This track seems to be very personal as well, but she does not express herself by looking inward, but rather objects to what she sees going on all around her. The music business is a crazy world, full of fake people, drugs and deception around every corner, and can be overwhelming at times. Momsen successfully uses the metaphor of a storm to describe her crazy lifestyle, something many of us can relate to, even if only occasionally. Watch for this one to burn up the charts next, her pact with Satan almost guarantees it.
Just as soon as it picked back up, the record again pitches back into the blues. In “Already Dead”, the beat is slow, the slide guitar wails, and it as though the skies have turned gray, and we all don our mourning clothes.
“The Devil’s Back” has a much brighter guitar sound, but finds Taylor wrestling with regret that flows through her into her sorrowful lyrics. Her demons have returned, taking her happy, carefree attitude with them. “Already Dead” and “The Devil’s Back” could have been part one and two of the same song, and that is perhaps why they were placed this way on the album. They are both songs full of doom and gloom and perfect for when one wants to shut out the outside world and just dwell alone in their darkened room and feelings and just brood. I think everyone feels that way sometimes. It can’t just be me, right?
There is a bonus track called “Mad Love” which brings back the funk, but also has an industrial feel to it. (Imagine if Trent Reznor produced a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and you would be close.) Not sure what the bonus is here, though; it is found on the vinyl, cd and digital formats, perhaps The Pretty Reckless is just feeling generous and rewarding their fans who purchase the album.
So overall I enjoyed Who You Selling For immensely. I tend to stay in the murky, dark waters of the hard rock and heavy metal genres, but I love how they have branched away from what you would expect from The Pretty Reckless to honor the artists who laid the foundation of the music many of us enjoy today.
I also have no doubt the band enjoyed flexing their musical muscles while letting their creativity shine through. Most groups have this image they want their fans to perceive them to be, and often don’t record tracks that lean too far from the façade they have erected. I applaud the guts it took for these artists to stray from the well-lit roads that are easily traveled to explore the backroads and byways that led them to write and produce these songs, then fearlessly share them with the world. That was pretty reckless if you ask me, and so are they.
For more about the band, and to purchase the album in whatever format you desire, visit their website: www.theprettyreckless.com.
I also want to tell you if you are a fan, and in the Orlando area, they are coming to House of Blues this week and I’ll be there to report on their live show! Tickets are still on sale the last I checked, and very affordable! Go to the show, buy some merch, and tell them RARAS Farm sent you, and while you’re at it, why not like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rarasfarm/
I promise we won’t sell your soul to the devil, you will have to go to Mississippi and do that yourself. But if you do, maybe I will be writing about you next! Until then, rock on and Happy Halloween!
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