Thursday 18 February 2021

The Pretty Reckless - Death by Rock and Roll (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
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A few years ago, we had a dead car and a need to get to San Diego to work a convention. My daughter-in-law stepped up and lent us hers and a side perk was that we got to play some of her CDs during the journey across the desert where radio signals vanish for long periods. Our discovery from those was a CD from the Pretty Reckless, their then current album, Who You Selling For, which was quality stuff in a whole slew of genres, not just alternative rock but looks backward to blues, country and soul.

So I'm jumping on the new album as soon as I saw it come out, which, because of COVID-19, was quite a while after its opening single last May. This is even more varied than its predecessor and more overtly too. What's interesting to me is that it starts out pretty heavy and gradually works away from that to slide through genres like layers of an onion.

And it does start heavy. The title track is a stomper of a hard rock number, the sort of thing than Joan Jett might be recording if she'd been born three or four decades later than she was. It and the album are tributes to the band's producer, Kato Khandwala, who died after a motorcycle crash in 2018. Those are his footsteps at the beginning of the song. Only Love Can Save Me Now is a grungy brooder that's built on Black Sabbath-esque riffs and an opening that controls feedback really nicely. There's a great solo from Kim Thayil of Soundgarden.

Halfway through And So It Went, I was thinking this was a much heavier album than Who You Selling For, but then it took a very sudden shift from heavy to light that's cleverly done. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine is the guest here and he does great work too, but it's the songwriting that makes this one work so well. It's wildly catchy, shifting not only from heavy to light but eventually to what I can only assume is a choir of kids. There's some Alice Cooper in the attitude, not so much in the rest.

That shift put paid to the much heavier assumption and the album promptly got very interesting. 25 is probably the best song here, a deep and powerful song that shifts from sultry to doom prog to the Beatles without any threat to its integrity. It's a black hole of a song, pulling us inexorably toward a seriously weighty ending that underlines how this song must mean something. We can't not listen to it. It's almost a command.

After My Bones, which is another crossover between alternative and hard rock, those onion layers fly. Every song is interesting and every song sounds like that's what this band was meant to play. It's not just vocalist Taylor Momsen who feels natural in each of these styles, though she's the real highlight here. It's everyone in the band, which means guitarist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins. I've just listened to this album a few times and I want to hear the next one already.

Got So High is Britpop, almost an Oasis kind of song. At only 38 seconds long, Broomsticks is there to set a tone, not so much introduce Witches Burn but get us in the mood that it's Halloween. How to do that better than emulating a Tim Burton musical? Witches Burn itself sits halfway between AC/DC and Danzig, of all people. It's certainly not Broomsticks for five minutes. The Pretty Reckless are getting to be as good at changing style on a dime as Queen and that's saying something.

Standing at the Wall is a singer/songwriter piece, setting us up for a gradual shift into what I'd call an old school country rock sound. Turning Gold seems very familiar, but I can't place why beyond being a quintessential Americana rock song in the vein of Bob Seger, even though it ends with a sitar which is an interesting choice that sounds good even if I don't understand it. Rock and Roll Heaven is country rock in a relatively modern style, while Harley Darling goes further back to a country rock sound with a lot of folk. Hippies could sit round a campfire with their acoustic guitars, get high and all sing this together.

That's a lot of mileage for an album that runs through a dozen songs in fifty minutes. It sounds great and it already sounds surprisingly consistent given how varied it really is. With each listen through, I feel it's even more coherent as an album and not just a collection of songs, each of which also grows a lot. My Bones, for instance, initially felt like a bit of a letdown after 25, a sort of return to the heavier early songs, but it isn't. It's probably the best song here after 25 and merely suffered from its impact coming first. This is good stuff and it's getting better.

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