The Pretty Reckless
Who You Selling For
Cooking Vinyl Records
By: Jason Ryan
When The Pretty Reckless released their first album back in 2010, it was easy to dismiss them as a vanity project – a post-grunge group fronted by a teenage girl whose day job was a weekly portrayal of Jenny Humphrey on the CW’s Gossip Girl. Seven years down the line, though, it’s clear that The Pretty Reckless isn’t a sideline for Taylor Momsen, it’s what she does. One glance at her IMDB page, showing no acting work since she got out of her tv contract, makes it clear that she considers herself a musician, first, last, and only.
What luck, then, that the band’s newest release, Who You Selling For, is perhaps their strongest yet, featuring a greater range of styles than either of their previous CD’s, while still being a rock record through and through. Before the album’s release in October of 2016, it was previewed by the first single, “Take Me Down”, a great introduction to the full release. Starting simply with drums and a riff from guitarist and co-songwriter Ben Phillips, Momsen starts out mild and melodic before breaking out the full rasp and yowl by the song’s end. Telling her version of the Robert Johnson myth, she bargains with the devil for the ability to make music, singing, “Don’t care what happens when I die. As long as I’m alive, all I wanna do is rock, rock, rock!” The Pretty Reckless may have not nominated for any rock Grammys this year, but if they can keep music like this coming, they can be on their way in the near future.
The ghost of Robert Johnson also haunts the next song, “Prisoner”, such a traditional blues stomp, that you could almost imagine Momsen and Phillips slamming a dusty boot onto a piece of plywood in order to keep the beat.
Some songs, like “Living In the Storm”, venture dangerously close to being a peek into the diary of a nihilistic millennial (“I know I’m alone, all on my own. I’m already dead and cold. Cold, cold, cold, cold.”) Others, though, feature lyrics that speak towards a high (if also highly critical) amount of self-knowledge. “Oh, My God” looks directly at Momsen’s past and present – “Wish I could do something smarter than sing, but I’m just a face painted in mud.”
Fans of the band’s previous sound will find much that’s familiar here, even as the palette has expanded. “Back to the River” features Allman Brothers guitar legend Warren Haynes while the over seven-minute long “The Devil’s Back” features some of the band’s most experimental playing while still staying within the hard rock/alternative sound that’s served them so well.
Through it all, though, it’s Momsen’s singing that’s the cd’s greatest strength. Though still in her early twenties, she has the pipes of a veteran rocker of twice her years. When she sings of “too many cigarettes, I smoked me to death,” it’s utterly believable (but in the best way.) In fact, on Who You Selling For, she makes the case for herself as the very opposite of a Hollywood dilettante. Though there’s unfortunately not as much competition for the title as we might like, it seems likely here that the Pretty Reckless is gifted with the greatest female rock vocalist of her generation.