Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Album Review: If The Pretty Reckless Are "Going To Hell," Their Handbasket Is Made From Black Leather

Rock-n-roll.  Rebellion. 

Those things have always gone together like Jack and Coke.  Skirts and heels.  Leather and motorcycles.

Well, they always had until people started categorizing bands like One Republic, Imagine Dragons, and Train as rock-n-roll. 

But here to remind us of the rebellious spirit of rock-n-roll is The Pretty Reckless with their new album, Going To Hell.  Perhaps moreso than their hard-driving music, this band is recognized for the outrageous antics of singer Taylor Momsen - a vixen who has been known to show more skin and irreverence than even her raciest hard rock contemporaries like In This Moment's Maria Brink or New Years Day's Ash Costello.

But it's not just Momsen's imagery that rekindles the intimacy between rock-n-roll and rebellion.  The Pretty Reckless accomplishes that with their music as well. 

Going To Hell starts off as raucously as can be with "Follow Me Down" and its stoner-rock riff.  And though Momsen won't win any awards for having the largest range or most operatic voice, her distinctive singing cuts through right from the beginning. 

If Track 1 wasn't enough to grab your attention, The Pretty Reckless get pretty relentless with the following song, "Going To Hell."  Spurred on by a provocative video released before the album, this tune has already become one of 2014's hard rock anthems.

In this world of increasingly popular digital singles and EP's and declining attention spans, some artists lose their audiences with too many overly homogeneous songs.  That does not happen on Going To Hell.

Following the duo of straightforward, hard rocking opening opuses is "Heaven Knows," which starts out with an unexpected slave-chant "Oh, Heaven knows/We belong way down below."  This cool little intro would be much more predictable if it were coming from Johnny Cash or Delta Rae.  But it offers something far from predictability on this record. 

That unpredictability is quite welcome.  And unpredictability almost becomes a theme of the album as "House on a Hill" offers the album's ballad; "Sweet Things" features the only true screaming from Momsen plus some male vocals from guitarist Ben Phillips; and "Absolution" turns the modern rock songwriting formula on its head with heavy verses and a soft, atmospheric, trippy chorus.

Sure, there's plenty of the more outrageous side of The Pretty Reckless that long time fans know and love, like the gnarly "Why'd You Bring A Shotgun To The Party?" and the slightly hair-metalish "F***ed Up World."  But when such a slamming album ends with a folksy tune like "Waiting For A Friend," which even includes some harmonica of all things, you know that you've listened to an album that isn't exactly an exercise in musical paint-by-numbers.

The bottom line is that The Pretty Reckless know how to rock hard and rebelliously.  They also know how to do whatever they want, even if it means rebelling against their own rebellious brand as they progress from one song to the next. 

And that is the spirit of rock-n-roll that you won't find on a One Republic release.