The Pretty Reckless – Going To Hell – Released March 18, 2014
Review by Ann Joles
I want to love the latest release from The Pretty Reckless, Going to Hell, for many reasons. From the first listen to their 2010 release Light Me Up, I was a fan, hooked in the band’s blend of pissed off feminine uproar and entertaining rock and roll. It’s not easy to express female rage well and make it interesting, indecent, and touching, but this band hits that blend. Of course, let’s be honest, they also featured Momsen’s ass and a few porn moans on the tracks so not many people actually get to the message because they are distracted. Going to Hell steps forward in technique and courage while keeping The Pretty Reckless signature sound, something truly needed in today’s music scene. This isn’t a release for those easily offended or faint of heart since Going to Hell is true to its word and takes you on a ride through sin, guilt, and temptation.
The web is full of articles attracted more to Taylor Momsen’s ambivalence and escapades than her musical ability. I don’t care about her acting career or the band’s seemingly designed persona of distance and haze – whatever works for them is fine with me. We certainly don’t need another trainwreck pop star flooding the media. So why am I bringing it up? Because I think it bears mentioning that Momsen is barely in her 20s. That, my friends is impressive and reason to engage.
If nothing else, The Pretty Reckless is doing something very important. They give us a glimpse into the world view of a 20 year old, and it still looks a lot like it has since Americans walked out of the post-WWII honeymoon and woke up. But now, The Pretty Reckless can express ideas and reality without euphemism or reserve. Momsen, when asked about her writing, replied that she writes songs that have multiple meanings, even embedding the true inspiration in such as way that listeners will never know the spark that created the song. That may be so, but based on the collection and tone sweeping through Going to Hell, yes, I’ve got to say it, it’s a fucked up world. Always has been. While Light Me Up was fashioned with lyrics about sex and drugs and being out of control, Going to Hell is based around desperate situations – ones we find ourselves facing either through our own mistakes or circumstances beyond our control. It’s a good thing reality sounds and feels better when paired with stinging guitar and a great beat.
Going to Hell flexes some creative muscle and expands The Pretty Reckless sound beyond their earlier work. This is no rehash of the same old same old. This collection moves easily from hard edge, sometimes jagged, rock and roll to acoustic, sweet compositions to ripping, tearing freakshow thrillers, and it all feels as effortless and genuine as Momsen’s vocal work. While always fascinating and exhibiting tremendous vocal control, Momsen’s range and ability has grown since 2010. Perhaps more confident, her vocals feel more front and center in this mix than in earlier studio work. Ben Phillips’ guitar and vocal work is essential to this band, adding a shot of classic rock guitar and a marked contrast vocally to Momsen. Their collaboration works. Mark Damon, bass, and Jamie Perkins, drums, are hard driving additions to this mix, both able to flex musical muscle. Shaving off threads from various musical influences, Going to Hell is a whirlwind with enough depth for the listener to come back again and again, finding something new every time.
I’m a fan of gritty, throttle wide open rock and roll, the kind of music that The Pretty Reckless does so well. “Follow Me Down” and “Absolution” are standouts. Blending Momsen’s straight out rock vocal with softer, lush moments, these songs carve out niches in their arrangements for interesting effects, heavy chords, and impact. Then we have the title track, steeped in Catholic guilt – “Going to Hell” is a fun romp through true rock guitar and moody synthesizer. Without the defiance in Momsen’s vocals this song would be sad, but she turns it into a battle cry. “Heaven Knows,” with homage to Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” in both use of a children’s choir and defiant message, is a timely social commentary with a great hook. Sounding more like a soundtrack to a B-movie, “Sweet Things” kicks in double bass and speed and shifts between Momsen and Phillips to create a carnivalesque Little Red Riding Hood rock horror show. This song leaves no stone unturned.
A bit lighter but still rocking, “Blame Me” is dreamier and moodier in effect and vocals. Starting with a whisper but exploding into a scream, “Why’d You Bring a Shotgun to the Party” takes a razor to the current societal nightmare of violence and slices it to pieces using Momsen’s varied vocal styles and snide, even mocking lyrics. This is interesting and courageous. “Fucked Up World” blends tambourine and pop elements to create a decidedly fun song.
Mixing acoustic work into Going to Hell must have taken a lot of thought because the tracks do not seem out of place or even subservient to the harder tracks. “House on a Hill” allows Momsen’s voice to float naturally on the sweeping melody. “Dear Sister” and “Burn” are both brief offerings of what could be powerful vocal work, and “Waiting on a Friend” dips low to country elements and folksy, harmonica included.
I love a lot of things about this release. I love that it is a strong second album, no small feat. There is room to grow, more music to make, and Going to Hell bookends nicely with Light Me Up. I love that The Pretty Reckless, and Taylor Momsen, did not back off on their barbed wire approach to rock and roll and social commentary. The Pretty Reckless flies a big middle finger as their banner to everything and everyone trying to nail them down and does so with adept, challenging lyrical content and listenable, enjoyable, hard rocking musical composition.